BENNINGTON -- The Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling team always comes into the New England wrestling championships with momentum, but after a thoroughly dominating New England victory last season and an undefeated record this season, the 13 Patriots who qualified have giant targets on their backs as they try to repeat at regional champions.
"I told the team after practice on [Thursday] that we are the favorites, but we've earned that role," said MAU coach Scott Legacy. "We're the favorites on paper, but we have to go out and wrestle. There's no added pressure, we have to let it play out as it will."
Last year, the Patriots had two champions in Miguel Calixto and Jesse Webb, a runner-up in Troy Gassaway and a placer in Austin Price, who was fourth.
Webb (59-0), Gassaway (58-0) and Price (57-0) are all undefeated coming into the tournament, but being an unseeded event, anything can happen.
"We have to see how the draws play out," Legacy said. "That's the beauty of the New England tournament and the bad of it. Every match is like the final of a regular season tournament."
The real key to the tournament will come in the wrestlebacks as competitors who fall from the championship bracket work to place in the top 6.
"The advantage of having 13 wrestlers is that everyone is important, everyone can score points to help contribute," Legacy said. "No one should feel like they're carrying the load."
MAU set a team-record with a 36-0 record this season, including winning all eight tournaments, the prestigious Lowell Holidays near the top of the list. They also won the opening tournament in Penfield, N.Y., near Rochester, along with duals against top Connecticut school Danbury and No. 1 Rhode Island school Bishop Hendricken.
"We've seen a lot of these kids, so there's a lot of familiarly win or lose," Legacy said. "We've been through the grind and high quality matches. This year, the higher the level [of competition], the better we've wrestled. We compete against them and we know where we stand."
While all the brackets are tough, some are brutal. One of those is at 195, as Tyler Mattison comes in at 55-3. Two of his losses are to the top New Hampshire wrestler in Joe Chimelski, who is on the other side of the bracket. But on his side are New Hampshire's No. 2 Walters Ndi and Massachusetts' No. 1 Griffin Tighe, who Mattison beat this season.
"If he's on, he'll be a big points scorer for us," Legacy said.
Others that could make some noise include 106-pounder Calvin Call, 113-pounder Tyler Raetz and 132-pounder Dylan LaFountain.
"In the last month, Tyler has been at his best," Legacy said. "He's beaten quality kids along the way. Calvin is in the same boat."
LaFountain comes into the tournament at 54-5 after running through the Vermont states and seems to be riding the momentum.
"They have a hot day, they could all be placers," Legacy said.
For some of the wrestlers who are going to New Englands for the first time, like Taber Watson, Darren Ruiz-Sauer, Noble Shaler and Jacob Woodside at 126, 145, 152 and 160, respectively, the goal is to get a win under their belts.
"We want them to do what Jack [Luciano] did last year," said Legacy, referring to his 220-pounder who came up one win of placing last season.
Damon Young at 170 has another brutal bracket, with 2013 New England champ Brad Drover a possible matchup in the semifinal.
"Damon is going to be huge for us and he's good enough to place as well," Legacy said.
Legacy said the team has had its best week of practice and hopes they can take that to Rhode Island.
"We've stayed sharp and this group is ready," Legacy said. "I've done everything I can, it's out of my hands and now it's up to them. I feel good about it."