SKOWHEGAN, Maine — One of Maine’s smaller high school student-athletes captured one of his chosen sport’s biggest prizes over the weekend.
Skowhegan Area High School wrestling standout Cody Craig, a senior from Norridgewock, won the 106-pound weight class at the 53rd annual New England Interscholastic Wrestling Championships held in Providence, Rhode Island.
Craig is a four-time Class A state champion in the lightest of the sport’s 14 weight classes and is Maine’s first four-time, all-class meet champion at 106 pounds. He won all four of his matches at the New Englands, including a 3-1 decision over Ryan Jack of Danbury, Connecticut, in the championship bout.
Craig scored a two-point takedown in the first period to gain control, and then the wrestlers traded one-point escapes in each of the last two rounds.
“I think any good wrestler expects to win,” said Craig, who finished his high school career with a 224-5 overall record, including an unblemished 212-0 with 105 pins against in-state competition.
“You don’t go to a tournament if you don’t think you’re going to win. Anyone with a competitive spirit goes in with the thought process to win, and I had plenty of confidence in my ability, I definitely expected to win.”
Craig, considered a favorite in his weight class at the New Englands, had to beat the next three top competitors to claim the crown, including a 7-1 victory over Rhode Island champion and hometown favorite Andrew Fallon of Providence’s LaSalle Academy in the semifinals.
That bout was a rematch of a semifinal earlier in the season at the Noble Invitational tournament in North Berwick, where Craig snuck out a 4-3 decision.
The rematch was more decisive, with Craig winning 7-1.
“That [Noble match] was a good little eye-opener for Cody as far as picking up the pace and refocusing,” said Tenney Noyes, who coaches Skowhegan’s wrestling team with Brooks Thompson.
Craig was motivated for this year’s New England championships by near misses each of the last two years and a sense of urgency with this being his final chance to capture the six-state title.
“Last year I came up short and I think that’s where a lot of my training for this year came from because I finished second last year,” said Craig. “The year before I came up short of placing, so the sting of both of those drove me to work harder and harder this year to not let it happen again.
“Once I came back to my senses and the emotions left after last year I thought, ‘Wow, now I’ve put myself in a bad position, now I have to win it next year. It’s my last shot.’”
The 5-foot-3 Craig is a two-time junior national All-American, placing sixth last spring in freestyle competition at Fargo, North Dakota, and seventh in the Greco-Roman division as a sophomore in 2015.
Craig also finished eighth among 128 competitors in his weight class last fall at another prestigious meet, the Super 32 Challenge in Greensboro, North Carolina — an event he considers the toughest in the country because of an elite field that isn’t broken down by age.
“I’d say all around I have a lot of grit,” said Craig of the key to his success. “I don’t like to lose, I don’t like to be scored on. I have plenty of confidence in myself to keep my composure and pull out the win. I never doubt myself when I’m in a match. I think it’s more of a mental toughness thing than a physical one.”
Craig’s undefeated four-year record against Maine competition was not without its close calls at the outset. As a freshman he often gave away eight to 10 pounds to many of his opponents.
“I’d walk around at 90-something pounds so guys I’d wrestle weren’t necessarily as good as me but they were just bigger,” he said. “I definitely had a lot of close calls, a lot of close matches and a few overtime matches.”
Craig’s dominance grew as he grew to the weight-class limit, and this winter he wrestled many regular-season matches in either the 113- or 120-pound divisions to help Skowhegan in team scoring.
“Technique, strength, speed, work ethic, he’s got all of it,” said Noyes. “He’ll come in and work out with me at 6 every morning, doing a lifting routine before school and then hit wrestling practice after, and then on Sundays he’d get a car full of boys and head down to Belfast where they have a club and wrestle down there.”
Craig, whose older brother Tyler was a three-time state champion at Skowhegan and now wrestles at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, also hopes to continue his wrestling career at the collegiate level.
First he plans to attend The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, a prep school with a national-caliber wrestling program.
“It’s good for me as far as taking a year to gain weight for college wrestling [where the lightest weight class is 125 pounds],” he said. “And it’s good for me because I don’t necessarily know yet what I kind of career I want to pursue after college, so this will give me another year to mature and figure out what I want to do.”
Craig was one of eight Maine wrestlers to score top-four finishes at the New England championships.
Bradley Beaulieu of Marshwood of South Berwick, another four-year state champion, won the 138-pound title, while Robert Heatherman of Mt. Ararat/Brunswick (170 pounds) and Ryan Fredette of Winslow (182) each placed second.
Trent Goodman of Ellsworth finished third at 170 pounds while Eagles’ teammate Peyton Cole was fourth at 152, Skowhegan’s Samson Sirois was fourth at 132 and Dawson Stevens of Oxford Hills in South Paris was fourth at 160.