New England champions!

New England champions!

A week after cramming onto the awards podium with its state championship awards at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house, the Ponaganset High wrestling team was back on the podium last Saturday night at the PCTA facility with the New England championship trophy. Leading the Cheiftains to their three-point victory over Vermont state champion Mount Anthony were the three wrestlers atop the podium: Tyler Riggs, left, who placed third in the 195-pound division, and Cole McGill, center, and Sam Lynch, who respectively captured the 145-pound and 138-pound state titles. (Breeze photo by Kayla Panu)
Lynch, McGill propel Ponaganset wrestling team to first regional title

PROVIDENCE – It started out as a goal at the beginning of the season, and last Saturday night at the Providence Career & Technical Academy facility, it became a reality, as the Ponaganset High wrestling team made school history by capturing the New England championship with 83 total points.

Not only did the Chieftains become the ninth Rhode Island school in history to win the regional title, but two seniors, 138-pounder Sam Lynch and 145-pound Cole McGill, won individual N.E. titles to help Ponaganset edge Mount Anthony Union High of Bennington, Vt., a 30-time state champion, by three points.

“Honestly, it hasn’t set in, but I’m really, really proud of all of our kids,” Ponaganset head coach Mike Joyce said after the two-day N.E. meet, which featured wrestlers from 176 schools. “There are a lot of kids in our room that didn’t start or make their way into the lineup, but the reality was they were there every day and they worked hard every day, so this championship is as much theirs as the two guys we had crowned New England champions tonight.”

The team championship went right down to the wire, as only a few points separated Ponaganset, Mount Anthony, Danbury, Conn., which finished third with 75 points, and Timberlane High of Plaistow, N.H., which placed fourth with 72.

The championship matches for the top six places in each weight class started with the 160-pound division, and that meant that junior Tyler Riggs didn’t have to wait around long to wrestle in his 195-pound match for third place against Jacob Commander of New London, Conn.

Riggs produced a 4-3 victory that gave the Chieftains a one-point lead over Mount Anthony that was his fourth straight win in the consolation round, but the Vermont champs soon reclaimed the lead, and all Ponaganset could do was watch the scoreboard and wait for Lynch and McGill to wrestle in their matches.

“I’m immensely proud of Tyler,” Joyce said. “He had the expectation to win this year, but he got upset in the quarterfinals and got turned with a few seconds left. It’s really difficult to come back from adversity, so for him to do what he did, basically take his desire of what he wanted, put it aside, and put the team first and win four matches in a row to take third, that was absolutely 100 percent essential for our success.”

Lynch had his hands full, as he was facing a longtime rival, Bishop Hendricken’s Dylan DiSano, who had defeated him in the previous weekend’s state championship match. Ironically, both had also wrestled against each other in last season’s 145-pound finals, with Lynch coming out on top with an overtime victory.

“Try to stay consistent,” Lynch said when asked about his strategy for his rematch with DiSano. “I knew I trusted my coaches and I trust in my training, and I trained for this match. I went over the video and did everything I could to know that I put myself in the best position to come out on top.”

It was a low-scoring match with no points in the first round. After two rounds, Lynch held a 1-0 lead, but after DiSano tied it up to start the third, and as the clock went under a minute, Lynch got the points he needed and held on for the 5-2 win.

“For those two to come together in the New England finals, wrestle each other, and have our guy come out on top, and that helps us win the team championship, I don’t think you can script it any better,” added Joyce.

McGill followed Lynch by grabbing a 2-1 lead in the first round of his battle with Noah Strout of Oyster River High of Durham, N.H. It was a neck-and-neck matchup until McGill pulled ahead of Strout with two key points in the final period for the 6-3 victory.

“Cole had to go through (Connecticut state champ A.J.) Kovacs in the semifinals and still keep his momentum going into the finals,” said Joyce. “You are dealing with a lot of pressure there to become a New England champ.”

After McGill’s bout, there was just one weight class left at 152, and he and his teammates knew they had clinched the team title before he even stepped onto the podium for his first-place medal and plaque.

The Chieftains and their fans were all focused on the third-place match at 152 between Mount Anthony’s Tyler Burgess and Cooper Fleming of Granby Memorial of Granby, Conn., and when Burgess lost his match by a 4-3 score, shock and excitement befell Ponaganset.

“It feels great,” McGill said. “My senior year, the goal was to win states and then New Englands, and to do it as a team is even better. Ponaganset won, so I’m very happy.”

Rounding out the top six teams in the standings were two of the Chieftains’ RIIL rivals, Bishop Hendricken, which took fifth place with 58½ points, and Coventry, which placed sixth with 49½.

Both McGill, who was 4-0 with a pin, and Lynch, who posted a 5-0 mark, were extremely happy for their own successes, but much happier that their team was able to do what some thought may have been impossible.

“This is the first true team that I’ve ever been a part of,” McGill said. “It feels great. There is no other group of guys like that. Everyone works hard, and I have to thank them for working hard and winning (the team championship) with me.”

After losing in the state finals, Lynch was more determined than ever to win a New England title.

“I put everything into this sport,” he added. “I think that’s what it takes to be the best and climb to the top. You might have mishaps and you might have valleys and mountains, but you just have to keep working through it all.”

Lynch plans to continue his wrestling career at nearby Brown University, and McGill’s plan is to spend a post-graduate year at the Pomfret School in Connecticut and also keep wrestling.

The Chieftains also had four other wrestlers in action last weekend, senior 152-pounder Richard Andrews, junior 220-pounder Luke Cirka, and freshmen 113-pounder Michael Joyce Jr. and 106- pounder Tim Cook. Joyce went 2-2 in the tournament, and Cook delivered a second-round pin in his opening match.

“I’m very proud of my freshmen, who wrestled great today, even though they fell short of placing by a match,” the head coach said.

Nevertheless, for the first time in its program’s 57-year history, the wrestling team has its first 15-0 dual-meet season in Division I, state title, and New England championship.

“We talked at the beginning of the season about what the expectations of the kids were,” added Joyce. “They worked really hard to fulfill their goals, and that’s why I’m happy for them. As a teacher, my biggest thing with my students and wrestlers is if you work hard, you can be successful, but sacrifice equals success. And I think that no one sacrificed more than our kids in the room, and that’s why they are successful today.”