Patriots focused on 26
BENNINGTON -- On the wall of the Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling room, 14 pieces of paper in a straight line wait to be read.
As the Vermont state tournament begins today, each paper corresponds to a Mount Anthony wrestler from lightest to heaviest and is a season's worth of thoughts and notes from MAU coach Scott Legacy and the rest of the coaches on things each one does well, things that can be improved and an overall message of encouragement heading into the year's biggest event to date.
"I started doing it more than 20 years ago, I take notes throughout the season constantly," Legacy said. "I save them until after the last competition and I sit down and type them all out. It doesn't cover everything but things to get prepared for in the next couple of weeks."
Eight Mount Anthony wrestlers are the top seed in their bracket -- Calvin Call at 106, Troy Gassaway at 120, Dylan LaFountain at 132 and all five from 170 to 285, Damon Young, Austin Price, Tyler Mattison, Jack Luciano and Jesse Webb.
Seven of the eight have 50 or more wins this season and Call and Tyler Raetz at 113 have 49 and 48, respectively. In addition, Gassaway, Price and Webb are unbeaten.
And all 14 varsity competitors take those sheets very seriously.
"It's pretty much taken a lot of focus and getting everyone on the same page," said senior Jesse Webb, who is going for his fourth straight state championship. "We're reading [the sheets] everyday because they have everything we need to work on."
At 55-0 this season and 223-9 for his career, an outsider might think Webb's sheet would be nearly empty. Not true.
"I work on the things Coach tells me, making mental notes and working on it," said Webb, heading to Ohio University next year. "I'm doing what I've done all season to get where I am now."
Gassaway is also undefeated at 55-0, and he comes in with wins against most of his bracket, including No. 2 seed Ben Bliss from MMU.
"I'm happy to be undefeated and have 55 wins, but I'm looking at it like I have no record at all, going in and giving it my all," Gassaway said. "This year, I didn't hold back, no nerves, I know I worked harder than anyone."
After the top seeds, Tyler Raetz is seeded No. 2 at 113, Taber Watson is No. 3 at 126, Bailey Willard is No. 5 at 138, Darren Ruiz-Sauer is No. 3 at 145, Noble Shaler is No. 2 at 152 and Jacob Woodside is No. 2 at 160.
"The seeds came out with the way they wrestled, it's not surprising to have the high seeds," Legacy said. "The impressive part is that it's against the best competition in New England and New York state."
Legacy said his middleweights have been the biggest surprises this season.
"Noble took the opportunity to get in the lineup and took off from the beginning," Legacy said. "Jacob started to climb the ladder right around the MAU tournament and Darren has lost some close matches, but he's been putting it together in the past couple weeks."
Other top seeds that aren't MAU wrestlers are Bellows Falls-Hartford's Austin Viens (113), Mount Mansfield's Bryce Bernandine at 126, Mill River's Zach Allen (138), BF-H's Nolan Viens (145), Vergennes' Brandon Cousino (152) and Keegan Pearsall (160).
"26 is up for grabs, has been all season long," Legacy said. "Taber is ready, he's made the appropriate steps, there's 4 or 5 kids in that bracket that could step up."
But for many Patriots, hearing the cheers from the home crowd will be sweet.
"It's my senior year, I'm real excited to be at home," Webb said. "It was a special moment as a freshman, I loved hearing all the cheers for me, not against me. I think all of the guys can win it, no matter what their seed, it's just a number on paper. I hope they go in with that feeling and confident in their hard work."
This will be the first year for Burr and Burton Academy wrestlers to compete in the state tournament.
The sport is also beginning to make some forward progress in the community, gaining some traction both among the student body at BBA and through the creation of youth wrestling leagues, which will eventually serve as a feeder program for the high school.
Though the pieces are in place for the program to be even more successful in the future and become a greater part of the sports culture throughout the community, BBA coach Zach Monforte said the success that the program has had thus far would not have been possible without the student athletes.
"They've really set the standard for establishing wrestling at BBA," said Monforte. "[And having] success in the community, that's what it's all about."
Manchester Journal reporter Brandon Canevari contributed to this article.
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