HOWLAND, Maine — Last week, they did it with depth and talent. This week, the Bucksport Golden Bucks did it with depth, talent and determination as they won their first Eastern Maine Class C wrestling regional title in 18 years.
While the Penobscot Valley Conference meet was virtually won before the championship finals, Saturday’s marathon meet came down to the third-to-last match as senior Craig Woodward won a 7-4 decision over Dexter’s Doug Richardson in the 189-pound weight class — one of five head-to-head championship round showdowns between the meet’s top two teams.
When the dust settled and the din of the crowd finally died down, the Golden Bucks put up 224 meet points to Dexter’s 210 and were leaving the Penobscot Valley High School gym with a coveted championship plaque.
“It’s everything to us. Our last Eastern title was 1991 so this is just awesome,” said fellow Bucks senior Josh Dunbar, who followed Woodward’s win with an 8-6 decision over Dexter’s Zach Poirier to win the 215 title. “This is a great way to go out.”
Well, not quite out. The Bucks and Tigers will get another rematch next week as each team takes 12 wrestlers to the state championships at the Augusta Civic Center.
“We are known to come second in some postseason meets and do better the next week, so that’s what we’re hoping for again,” said third-year Dexter head coach Adam Gudroe. “We brought 13 guys here and are taking 12 to states.”
The Bucks went 12 for 12, but may have lost the considerable services of senior Shawn Powell, who had to withdraw from the 152-pound championship final against Dexter’s Cody Caron after severely spraining his right wrist.
“We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed, but it definitely does not look good. The initial assessment was that it is a sprain, but we’ll have to look at it again,” said Bucksport coach Larry Clement. “Shawn’s injury had the potential to slow us down, but our seniors picked it right up after that.”
Senior Stephen Klenowski led that charge by pinning Dexter’s Lee Gustin in 59 seconds to take the 160 individual title.
“I think our experience helped because most of us wrestling last in the championships were seniors,” Dunbar said.
After Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln’s Jacob Ferland beat Bucksport’s River Robertson 5-3 in 171, the Tigers still had a shot, but Woodard and Dunbar did their best Jonathan Papelbon impersonations and closed it out for Bucksport.
“We were down by six going into the 189 class and we needed wins in both that and 215 to win, so it literally could have come down to the last one because they still had someone in the 285 final,” Gudroe said. “I was surprised. They had four guys in consolations and only one won. That kept us in it and when Powell got injured, that opened the door for us a little, but we couldn’t quite do it.”
Woodward and Dunbar welcomed the chance to be heroes.
“I didn’t know we’d almost sealed it, but I wasn’t nervous,” Woodward said. “The first time I faced him he pinned me in the first period. I got him last time at PVC’s so he knew I was serious.
“I like the cradle and tried it a couple times, but he was expecting it. I worked on different moves all week and the key one was countering the head and arm. I think it was my counter moves more than anything that won it.”
Penobscot Valley finished third with 144 points, Fort Kent was fourth at 114.5, and five-time defending East C champ Foxcroft Academy was fifth with 102.
Individual champions were Penobscot Valley’s David Sirois in 103; Dexter’s Michael O’Connor (112), Brian O’Connor (130), Ronald Harvey (140), and Cody Caron (152); Scott Carpenter (119) and Spencer McCormick (135) from Calais; Foxcroft’s Kaleb Mann (125) and Andrew Larson (285); Bucksport’s Ray Wood (145), Klenowski, Woodard, and Dunbar; and Mattanawcook’s Jacob Ferland in 171.
Downeast schools distinguished themselves at the meet and Calais led the way with three wrestlers in the championship finals.
“We don’t have a lot of numbers, but the numbers we have are tough,” said Blue Devils coach Randy McCormick. “We’re taking three of our seven guys to states.”
It was the second title in two seasons for Carpenter, who won the 112 regional crown as a freshman last year.
“It feels pretty good and it shows how all that hard work pays off,” Carpenter. “I just looked at improving my weak areas like positioning and some more basic stuff.”
Several other wrestlers were also repeat champions: Mann, won 112 in 2007 and 119 last year; Wood, who won his third title (140 in 2008 and 2007); and Ronnie Harvey, who won a second after taking 130 last year.
“This year, I was originally 135. I was undefeated and thought I’d stay there, but I dropped down and it wasn’t a problem. It felt perfect for me,” said Mann, who plans to continue wrestling at Bacone College in Oklahoma. “I’m more mentally tough and my season’s been great.”
Bucksport senior Bruce Rumney reached a milestone as he won his 100th career match in the championship semifinals before finishing as runnerup in the class to Ronnie Harvey.