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When you think of New England, you might think about Maine lobsters, Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts-based sports dynasties, and Rhode Island beach towns. But there is one more thing you should probably add to that list: wrestling.
Every late February or early March, the six great states of the region come together to battle at the New England High School Championships — although a New England title isn’t exactly seen the same as a prep national title or maybe even a Pennsylvania state title yet. This cluster of states is surely on the rise.
“College coaches in the recruiting process may default to a Pennsylvania, Ohio, or a New Jersey kid over a New England kid just because, traditionally, those states produce at the highest level. I think some coaches actually look to NE to find some diamonds in the rough so to speak,” said Ponaganset, RI, head coach Michael Joyce, who coached his team to a 2018 Rhode Island State Championship and New England team title.
Last year in Division I wrestling there were a combined 25 wrestlers from the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island alone, and that number is sure to grow with more clubs and high school teams traveling to out-of-state and regional competitions to gain exposure and put their athletes on the national radar.
“I think it is the responsibility of the coaches, clubs, and parents to get their kids the necessary exposure,” said Coach Joyce.”It took me three years of pestering Jeff Cuilty to get into Eastern States, and five years to get into Beast of the East.”
This “pestering,” as Coach Joyce described it, definitely pays off with getting his kids more time in the big tournaments where they face better competition and gain exposure and recognition. While growing in popularity, the sport of wrestling still falls behind other big sports such as football, baseball, and soccer when it comes to numbers.
“The Northeast has caught the bug over the last few years and we are becoming ‘wrestling obsessed,’ and that is necessary to propel our wrestlers past the issue of geography — travel has become the norm for many schools and clubs over the last couple of years,” said Coach Joyce.
When it comes to population, the combined states of New England sit at around 14 million — right between Pennsylvania’s 12.8 million and New York state’s 19.5 million. When asked about how talent compares to those two states who have a similar population but are definitely more “wrestling obsessed,” Coach Joyce sees any wrestling talent gap as diminishing.
“I would say as little as five years ago there was a wide gap between them,” he said, “but just look at Olympic duals last week. Two kids you may not have heard of Tim Cook who took second in Rhode Island last year losing to nationally ranked Joziah Fry, just majored Bucknell commit Aiden Lewis 9-1, Jacob Joyce at 109 went undefeated 7-0, and Aidan Faria, who wasn’t even ranked in the top 10, pound for pound in New England beat Pennsylvania runner-up Corrado and Beast placer Mckay!”
Corrado vs Faria:
Going to offseason events like the Olympic Folkstyle duals, among others, is one of the best ways that these northeasterners can get their names on some lists. Club teams in New England are also growing, with each state having a multitude of talented rooms to choose from.
“Bears Wrestling Club, Mayo Qunachi, Blackstone, Doughboy, and Smitty’s are doing great things and churning out great talent. Those clubs might not be getting the credit they deserve, especially when some of the names you see coming out of New England are wrestling for prep schools — notable wrestlers like Nico Provo and Kelvin Griffen are from New England,” said Coach Joyce, spotlighting a few of the prominent clubs.
Another thing that helps? Getting the best of the best or, as coach Joyce called them, “the professionals in their field.”
“One of the biggest changes that has taken place locally has been the influx of DI All- Americans coaching at the youth and high school level in NE,” said Joyce. “Being from Ohio, we had constant access to All-Americans; they coached us at the high school and youth level. Wrestlers would go off to college, return home and take an assistant coaching job at their alma maters and that was the recipe for success. NE wrestlers now have access to the same level of coaching.”
Drexel graduate Ebed Jarell, who was once nationally ranked, now can be found at Mayo Quanchi Judo-Wrestling in Coventry, Rhode Island — along with his brother Stephen, who was a DIII runner-up. Bears Wrestling Club in Providence boasts All-American Darius Little and Brown University’s coach, Tyler Grayson, among its coaches. Steven Keith, yet another All-American (at Harvard) helps out at Beat the Streets Providence.
With all the uncertainty in the air surrounding the sports universe, everyone must have hope that these athletes will get the opportunity to show their talent. A New England winter isn’t always the most pleasant. Lots of snow, freezing cold, ice everywhere, nothing growing. Well, one thing grows in a New England winter, and that’s wrestling.