HOWLAND, Maine — Deer Isle-Stonington High School has enjoyed its share of athletic success over the years in everything from baseball to basketball to cheerleading.
And now you can add wrestling to that list, thanks to the effort and determination of Zach Heanssler.
Heanssler, a former student at Calvary Chapel Christian School in Orrington who is now a senior at Deer Isle-Stonington, won three out of four matches to finish third at Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class C Regional Championships in the 140-pound weight division.
He also earned a spot in this Saturday’s Class C state championship meet at the Augusta Civic Center.
Not bad for a displaced wrestler who found himself looking for a team.
“When I came here, I found out they have no wrestling team, but I love the sport and wanted to stay with it,” Heanssler said. “I didn’t want to give it up so I checked to see if I could wrestle with another school team.”
Enter George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill.
“It’s just a half-hour drive over there every day to practice, so it’s no big deal to me,” Heanssler. “These guys feel like my teammates and they help me a lot. It’s really great to be able to practice with them.”
Heanssler practices and competes with the GSA Eagles as an independent, but he is a one-man team at meets as his points score for Deer Isle-Stonington, not George Stevens.
Heanssler scored 17 meet points to finish 12th out of 16 teams and trail his GSA peers (23, 11th place) by just six points.
The No. 2 seed in the 140 class, Heanssler made some history at the C regional meet at Penobscot Valley High School.
“I’m the first person from Deer Isle-Stonington to wrestle, so I’m the first to win a regional consolation championship, too,” said Heanssler, who won with a pin over Washington Academy’s Dave Glidden in the consolation final.
“I think my technique is what I’ve improved the most from last year,” said Heanssler. “Before, I just went in and wrestled from more of a physical approach.
“I guess that’s what I like about it. It’s a though, physical sport that takes all your energy, a lot of work, and lots of strategy, too.”
Blue Devils blazing new trails
It’s been quite a year already for Calais student-athletes Scott Carpenter and Spencer McCormick.
Both players, who are starters on the Calais-Woodland varsity football team, are also teammates on Calais’s seven-member wrestling team.
After leading the Calais-Woodland Silverados to their first football playoff appearance last fall, the sophomore duo won individual championships at the Eastern Maine Class C Regionals in Howland Saturday.
“Hopefully this will help get more interest about the team,” said McCormick, who helped lead his team to a sixth-place finish with 73 points. “Our school hardly even knows we have a wrestling team.
“It’s all about basketball so we try to dress up before meets to represent and get more people out there.”
Carpenter won his second regional title in two years and fellow football running back-cornerback McCormick won his first after finishing second in 125 last year.
“It was great to have success with both teams, and I know football coaches love their guys to wrestle and wrestling coaches like us playing football,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter, who won the 2008 112-pound East division title, went 3-0 and won the 119 title by pin in the championship match.
McCormick won the 135 title with a major decision (9-0) in the title match.
It’s the second consecutive year Calais has had two regional champs. A third championship finals wrestler, Michael Osseyran, lost his title match but is advancing on to Saturday’s state meet.
“We don’t have a lot of numbers, but the numbers we have are tough,” said head coach Randy McCormick, Spencer’s father. “We’re taking three of our seven guys to states. This shows you don’t need a big team to have great wrestlers.”
Wrestling with a new format
Saturday was a shakedown cruise of sorts at the regional wrestling meets around the state as a new “wrestle-back” system went into effect that guarantees each wrestler at least two matches before they’re done for the day.
It didn’t go off without a hitch as the new format caused some minor delays and led to a long day.
“I’m not a big fan of it at all,” said Bucksport coach Larry Clement, whose Golden Bucks won the Eastern Maine Class C Regional team title. “I think it makes for a much longer and later day.”
Saturday’s Eastern C meet began at 8 a.m. with weigh-ins. Competition began at 9:30 a.m. and the awards ceremonies concluded the day’s action at 9 p.m.
Clement said he agrees with the premise of the rule, however.
“Although I’m in favor of allowing every kid to get two matches, the problem is if you add them all up, you’re cheating the kids who go third and fourth,” he said.
The new system allows wrestlers in the early prelim matches to score points whereas those prelims just to get into the eight-man brackets did not score in previous years.
Foxcroft Academy’s Kaleb Mann didn’t seem too fazed as he won his third straight regional individual title.
“It’s good in some ways, but I realized there are no ‘pigtails’ [non-scoring preliminary matches] and it’s harder on our top guys,” said Mann, who won the 125-pound weight class. “It didn’t affect me, though, so I was fine with it.”