DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Not since 2005 had a team other than Lisbon High School or Dirigo High School in Dixfield won the Class C wrestling state championship, and little was expected to be different last February.
But then Foxcroft Academy snuck up on the favorites, using a blend of upset victories on its part as well as upset losses suffered by Lisbon and Dirigo to end western Maine’s dominance of the state meet as well as earn its third championship in the last eight years.
The Ponies will sneak up on no one this year, with just two scorers from the 2011 state meet having graduated and an influx of talented freshmen joining the returning veterans.
“Coming into this year after winning states, everyone’s excited,” said Foxcroft coach Luis Ayala. “We’ve got extra guys coming out, and you can just see the excitement. When you win, everyone wants to be part of it.”
Foxcroft already has flexed its competitive muscle during the preseason in two competitive matches against reigning Class A state champion Noble of North Berwick at the Dexter Duals. Noble edged the Ponies 36-33 in their first meeting of the day before the Knights — winners of 11 of the last 13 Class A crowns — earned a 43-30 victory in the championship match.
“What I saw from the kids was that there was no fear, they welcomed the challenge and stepped up and gave their best and that was exciting,” said Ayala.
And while Noble did graduate 14 wrestlers from last year’s team, including nine starters, such a respectable effort against the state’s top program regardless of class provided an already confident Foxcroft team an additional boost.
“That was huge,” said Mark Smith, one of just three seniors on the Foxcroft roster. “It told us our possibilities are endless. We could do anything. We could be the No. 1 team in the state by the end of the year.”
Smith, a tri-captain, is one of two individual state champions back to lead the Ponies this winter, along with junior Wesley Stinson. Smith, who has won state titles at 103 and 112 pounds the last two years, will compete at 120 this season while Stinson will wrestle at 145 pounds after winning the 152-pound division last February.
Other veterans for the Ponies are senior tri-captains Trevor Weymouth (132 pounds) and Zac Smith (170), both state runners-up last year. Junior Forrest Law (138) and sophomores Todd Francis (152) and Corey Bjornson (180) also figure prominently in the Ponies’ lineup after top-four finishes at last year’s state meet.
Sophomore Craig Chambers (195) and junior Alex Sedore (285), a transfer from New York, are expected to supply muscle in the upper weight classes, while a group of tested first-year high school wrestlers will help the Ponies in several lower divisions.
That youth movement is led by 113-pound Brooks Law, a New England middle-school champion a year ago, along with Isaac Whittemore (126) and Peter Boyer (160), both New England runners-up as eighth-graders.
Dylan Richards (106), Gaige Pleninger (126) and Dexter Canning (145) are other members of the Ponies’ Class of 2015.
“What we have coming in is a great freshman class,” said Ayala. “In other years we’ve had maybe two or three kids, but this year we’ve got six or seven kids coming in who already have experience, they’ve gone to the New Englands in middle school and not only placed but won, and four of those guys could end up starting for us.
“For us to continue staying strong for years to come, the young guys coming in now have to put in their time, and we’ve got great seniors to work with those guys,” Ayala said.
Foxcroft will get a season-opening test Friday night when it travels to Dixfield to face Dirigo, Lisbon and Eastern C rival Dexter High School in what has become an annual tradition among the four wrestling powers.
Dirigo, in particular, returns a veteran team of its own this year and is projected to be among the primary challengers to Foxcroft’s championship reign.
“This year it’s just making us want to work that much harder because we know people are going to want to come back and take it from us,” said Weymouth. “Dirigo didn’t lose many seniors last year, so it’s going to be a close battle.”
Another highlight to the schedule this winter will be a trip later this month to Ayala’s alma mater, where he wrestled, Park View High School of Sterling, Va., for the 34th annual Sterling Lions Terry McGowan Invitational Wrestling Tournament.
The team has been raising funds throughout the offseason to defray expenses for trip, which will include tours of Washington, D.C., and the suburban Sterling, Va., region.
“No matter how the wrestling turns out, it will be a great experience for these kids,” said Ayala.