Many Eastern Maine wrestling programs have been challenged to develop sufficient depth to contest for team titles in recent years.
Ellsworth High School has been no exception since winning back-to-back Class B state championships in 1981 and 1982, producing its share of individual standouts and finding itself hard-pressed to fill all 14 weight classes.
But the Eagles have gotten closer during the last two years, and improved results have followed.
Last winter Ellsworth placed third at the Penobscot Valley Conference championships and fourth at the Eastern Maine Class B regional.
This year the Eagles are off to an even faster start after their victory in Saturday’s PVC championships held at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln.
Ellsworth had just two individual champions in the meet, Brandon Gonclaves at 119 pounds and Michael Phillippon at 171, but the Eagles scored points in 13 weight classes, just enough to edge second-place Foxcroft Academy 132-128.5.
“When we put this coaching staff together three years ago, we knew this was going to go someplace,” said Travis Hardison, who shares the head coaching duties with Dan Ormsby, with Adam Atherton as an assistant. “I think we talked about it being five years when we’d start placing at tournaments. It’s been three years now, and now we’ve won this one. It’s huge for Ellsworth.”
All three coaches have wrestling backgrounds, Hardison and Atherton at Ellsworth and Ormsby at Bucksport.
“I’d been an assistant coach at Ellsworth since 2001, and when I took over the head position three years ago, that’s when Adam and Dan came with me,” said Hardison. “We connected really well, and within the first year I told Dan, ‘I can’t have you as my assistant coach, and I’m not going to be your assistant coach because I’ve been here too long. We’re going to do this together,’ so we’re co-coaches.”
One key to the program’s growth has been getting young athletes from the area onto the mat.
“A lot of our depth comes from being able to have a big middle school program,” said Ormsby, a health teacher at the high school. “I came in three years ago and started recruiting kids to join our middle-school program, and those kids are now part of our high school team. We have six freshmen in our starting lineup and they all know how to wrestle.
“Recruiting them at an earlier age and having them come into our middle-school program gives them some experience before they get to the high school team.”
In addition to the individual titles won by Gonclaves and Philllippon. Michael Garland placed second for Ellsworth at the PVCs in the 285-pound weight class, while Zack Harris (125 pounds), Ben Wildes (152) and Patrick Kidder (189) each finished third and Josh Fowler placed fourth at 215.
The Eagles had no competitor at 103 pounds, but got additional contributions from Terry Sutherland at 112, Dustin Smelley at 130, Steven Grant at 135, Beau Wilber at 140, Sam Lounder at 145 and Harry Whitmore at 160.
“As a team we had a bond, big-time,” said Gonclaves, a senior. “We all worked together and came out on top.”
Ellsworth returns to the mat Saturday at the Eastern B regional to be held at Mount Desert Island High School of Bar Harbor.
Bowen to leave Bapst program
John Bapst of Bangor wrestling coach Joe Bowen is stepping down from that post at the end of the current season.
Bowen, a former collegiate wrestler in California, has coached the Crusaders for the last three years after six years as the head coach at Brewer High school.
“I’ve been blessed as far as the sport of wrestling goes,” he said. “I’ve been coaching or wrestling for the last 36 years, but I’ve got a fifth-grader and another kid in kindergarten at home and I don’t get to go to any of their stuff right now.”
Bowen also said that the physical part of coaching the sport at the high school level grows more difficult with age.
“With the demands this sport places on you, it’s a younger man’s sport,” Bowen said. “It’s not a sport where you can just tell kids how to do it, you have to go out on the mat and show them.”
Bowen was instrumental in the creation of the River City Rumble, an annual meet at the end of the regular season involving the four wrestling teams in Greater Bangor: Brewer, Hermon, John Bapst and Old Town.
He’ll continue to be involved in wrestling at the youth level, having created the Cougar Wrestling Club a year ago that draws middle-school and peewee wrestlers from Dedham, Holbrook, Holden, Eddington and Airline schools. A signup session for that program will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Holden School, and wrestling will begin the following Monday beginning at 5 p.m. at the school. For more information, call Bowen at 299-5832.