ROCKPORT, Maine — Here’s a standing sports headline — the Camden Hills wrestling team will contend for a state championship this winter.
The Windjammers have finished either first or second at the Class B state meet in 15 of the last 16 years, with nine titles during that span.
But a second-place finish behind Mountain Valley of Rumford a year ago has left coach Levi Rollins’ team wanting more this season, and a strong start suggests Camden Hills is poised to return to its championship status.
“We’re doing really well so far,” said Rollins, an alumnus of the Windjammers’ wrestling dynasty now in his fifth year as the team’s head coach. “Once we get our full team lineup out there, I think we’re the best team in the state of Maine.”
And that’s regardless of class, Rollins asserts, with evidence provided by his team’s recent performances at the Atlantic Invitational meet in Wells and last weekend’s Noble Invitational in South Berwick.
Despite not having its full roster available at either event due to injuries, Camden Hills finished second in both of those multiteam meets. The Windjammers trailed Class A favorite Marshwood of South Berwick only 166-162 at the Atlantic Invitational and perennial Class A power Noble 199.5-177 at the Noble Invitational.
“We’ve matched up pretty well with the Class A schools,” said Rollins, “even though they have the advantage with numbers. Marshwood has about 40 kids wrestling and Noble has 40 kids and Massabesic [of Waterboro] has about 30 kids, while we’re at 18 to 20. We don’t have as many practice partners as they do, and it hurts us in that way.”
Camden Hills has been most successful so far this season in the upper weight classes despite not fielding a wrestler in the 285-pound class. Senior Rhett Chase, the reigning Eastern B champion and state runner-up at 215 pounds, won the 220-pound title at both the Wells and Noble events. Classmate Anthony Batty (182) and senior twins Ryan Graffam (170) and Brandon Graffam (195) also have been consistent scorers in the big meets, with Batty winning his class at the Noble Invitational.
And Rollins believes his team is every bit as strong in the lower and middle weight classes, a contingent led by defending 130-pound state champion Tom Cassidy, now competing at 138 under the newly revised weight-class system.
Also key members of that contingent are senior Neal Harrison-Billiat (145), juniors Coleman Powers (132) and Calan Bragg (126) and sophomore Connor Winchenbach (120). Powers and Winchenbach both placed third in their weight classes at last year’s state meet.
“We’re really strong from 120 through 145, but those are really tough weight classes,” said Rollins. “That’s where the best wrestlers in the state are.”
Camden Hills also is getting a boost from senior Jack Hauprich, a second-year wrestler who is competing at 160 pounds, and freshmen James Archer (106), John Underhill (113), Zac Annis (113) and Jared Gilbert (152).
Camden Hills heads back to southern Maine this weekend for one more major multiteam meet, the Sanford Redskin Invitational, before focusing on conference meets in preparation for the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships to be held Feb. 4 at Cony High School in Augusta.
“This is always a tough part of the season with all the big tournaments and the holidays,” said Rollins. “It takes a toll on the kids, but the high-quality competition we get at those meets is good for us, and then hopefully we can gear up again for the KVACs and the regionals and states.”
Rollins expects midcoast rival Belfast, Fryeburg Academy and Mountain Valley to battle the Windjammers for top finishes at the Class B championship meet, scheduled for Feb. 18 at Fryeburg.
And while wrestling is a sport where injuries can change a team’s expectations from day to day, Rollins is optimistic about his team’s long-term chances.
“I think we definitely have a great chance to win a state title,” he said.
Just one Class C team cracked the top 10 at the Noble Invitational, as defending state champion Foxcroft Academy finished seventh with 121 points.
The Ponies trailed only Class B Camden Hills and five Class A schools — Noble, Marshwood, Massabesic, Mt. Blue of Farmington and Cony.
Foxcroft placed four wrestlers among the top six finishers in their weight classes. Junior Forrest Law was second at 138 pounds, freshman Brooks Law placed third at 113, junior Wesley Stinson finished fourth at 145 and senior Trevor Weymouth was fifth at 132.