VERGENNES — On an elevated mat with more than 1,200 fans watching in the Vergennes Union High School gym, Otter Valley’s George Mitchell and Middlebury’s Bryan Ashley-Selleck, both juniors, on Saturday night won state titles at the Vermont state high school wrestling championship meet.
They and the other top-three finishers — including Tiger senior Kaden Odell, second at 145 pounds; and Vergennes sophomore Geoffrey Grant, second at 171 — became eligible to compete at the New England championship tournament this Friday and Saturday in New Haven, Conn.
Mitchell, who won his 100th match in December and has a 44-2 record this year, became a two-time champion after winning the 125-pound crown as a sophomore. His two losses this season came to a top Massachusetts wrestler and to a Rutland wrestler in a higher weight class.
This past weekend, Mitchell prevailed with pins in 1:16 and 2:38 in the first two rounds, by a 11-5 decision in the semifinal, and by 10-3 in the final.
OV coach Bob Bathalon said Mitchell took charge of each match early on.
“He turned up the wick a little bit. He knew he had to. He wrestled very well. He wrestled strong,” Bathalon said. “He turned it up when he needed to. He’s got that ability to do that.”
Bathalon said Mitchell’s success is no accident: He faithfully attends off-season camps in Brandon and Vergennes and doesn’t waste any time at practices.
“He puts in the time and the effort,” Bathalon said. “George has some talent, and he put a lot of work into it and made himself that much better.”
Mitchell’s victory helped OV to third place overall with 117.5 points. The Otters trailed only perennial power Mount Anthony, which scored 318.5 points after winning eight of 14 weight classes, and Spaulding (153.5).
MUHS (102.5) was fifth, VUHS (97.5) was seventh, and Mount Abraham was 21st among the state’s 24 wrestling teams.
Bathalon was thrilled with a teamwide effort that allowed the Otters — despite having just two seniors — to extend their streak to five straight years of being the tournament’s top team that normally competes at the Division II level: Both MAU and Spaulding are large D-I schools.
“We had seven guys in the top six, and that makes a big difference,” he said.
Also reaching the podium for OV were junior Joey McCoy, third at 103; junior Seth Harrington, third at 119; sophomore Mike Brouillard, third at 125; junior Alex Alger, sixth at 145; and seniors Evan Bathalon and Shaun Mills, fifth at 215 and 285, respectively.
Bathalon said that his athletes kept battling in the consolation rounds to pick up valuable points even after the disappointment of their first losses.
“We’re very, very happy,” he said. “The kids wrestled very well. They wrestled the way they were supposed to.”
TIGER TOPS THE PODIUM
Meanwhile, Ashley-Selleck made his day doubly sweet: The 152-pounder earned his first state title after winning his 100th match when he defeated Commodore Morgan Stinchfield, 7-1, in the semifinal round earlier in the day.
“The state tournament, and you get 100 wins right here,” Ashley-Selleck said after his semifinal win. “That’s a big confidence boost going into the final.”
Ashley-Selleck probably didn’t need an extra shot of confidence: His overall record this year is 41-1, and his winning streak is 34 after a December loss to a Massachusetts contender. On Saturday, he won by pin in 31 and 35 seconds in his first two rounds, defeated Stinchfield (who put up a better fight than anyone), and then in the final outpointed Colchester’s Devon Grammo (who had a 41-2 record) by 9-3 after taking a 9-1 lead.
Ashley-Selleck, who had reached the podium his first two years, said off-season camps, experience (he’s been wrestling since second grade), effort and focus have allowed him to take a step forward this winter.
“(It’s been) just hard work and keeping your mind in it. It’s all a mind sport. You have to have self-confidence and just go out there and do what you do,” he said.
MUHS coach Jon Ashley said Ashley-Selleck and Odell also push each other in practice, to their mutual benefit.
“You can’t get there without teammates who are committed to the same kind of goal,” Ashley said. “Kaden definitely made a difference for Bryan.”
Ashley also noted that in his nine seasons coaching at MUHS, during which he has mentored many outstanding wrestlers, Ashley-Selleck is the first to make it through a winter with just one loss against the challenging competition the Tigers face.
“Bryan really capped off an outstanding season,” Ashley said. “We’ve had a tough schedule, and he’s been up to the task every time.”
Odell also shone before running into a tough Mount Anthony wrestler in the final, where he lost, 14-7. Odell pinned his first two opponents in 30 and 31 seconds, respectively, and then had to deal with the cautious — even reluctant — approach of Spaulding’s lanky Artie Busano in the semifinal. The match went into overtime tied at 1-1, and Odell won, 2-1, when the referee finally penalized Busano for stalling. After Saturday’s final Odell’s record this season stands at 35-6.
Also reaching the podium for MUHS were senior Jarrod Ashley, fourth at 130 after giving Mitchell his closest bout; junior Kody Murray, making his third straight podium appearance by taking fifth at 135; and seniors J.J. Ciaramitaro and Hans Mueller, each making their podium debuts by taking fifths at 140 and 171, respectively.
Ashley was happy with his entire team, including two freshmen who earned key points by winning one match each — the Tigers finished just 4.5 points ahead of Essex and 5.0 ahead of VUHS.
“I really couldn’t have asked for much more from this year’s team,” he said.
VUHS saw a strong performance from Grant, who bumped up a weight class to 171 for the tournament. He reached the semifinal with a pin, and then ran into Taylor Dorsett of Spaulding. Dorsett spent most of the match refusing to engage with Grant, and led, 1-0, entering the third period. Finally, the referee penalized Dorsett two points for deliberately pulling Grant out of bounds when Grant was about to escape, and then Grant sealed the 4-1 win with a final-second takedown.
Mount Anthony’s Spencer Foucher pinned Grant in the waning seconds of the second period in the final, but VUHS coach Nate Kittredge said he was still pleased with Grant’s effort.
“He’s a sophomore and he really stepped up,” he said.
Kittredge also noted Grant’s 30-7 record.
“He’s on track for 100 wins, that’s for sure,” he said.
Kittredge also was happy with senior Kori Martell, who started out as the seventh seed in the tough 145-pound class and fought his way to third place.
“He did wicked well. He did awesome,” Kittredge said. “He was extremely excited. He should be.”
Also placing for VUHS were sophomore Cara Strona, sixth at 103; junior Ricky Karzmarczyk, fifth at 125; senior Simon Flynn, fourth at 140; and Stinchfield, a junior, fourth at 152.
Overall, Kittredge believed VUHS performed to par, although he had higher hopes for some of his athletes.
“Everybody together, we did really well,” he said.
The complete list of local wrestlers who won at least one match and their placing, if relevant, and their records is as follows:
• 103: 3. McCoy, OV, 3-1; 6. Strona, VUHS, 2-2.
• 112: 3. Harrington, OV, 3-1; Derek St. George, MUHS, 1-2.
• 125: 3. Brouillard, OV, 3-1; 5. Karzmarczyk, VUHS, 3-2.
• 130: 1. Mitchell, OV, 4-0; 4. Ashley, MUHS, 3-2.
• 135: 5. Murray, MUHS, 3-2; Max Flynn, VUHS, 1-2.
• 140: 4. Flynn, VUHS, 2-2; 5. Ciaramitaro, MUHS, 1-2.
• 145: 2. Odell, MUHS, 3-1; 3. Martell, VUHS, 4-1; 6. Alger, OV, 1-2.
• 152: 1. Ashley-Selleck, MUHS, 4-0; 4. Stinchfield, VUHS, 3-2.
• 160: John Shaw, OV, 1-2.
• 171: 2. Grant, VUHS, 2-1; 5. Mueller, MUHS, 4-2.
• 189: Gabe LaBerge, MUHS, 1-2; Clayton Childers, VUHS, 1-2.
• 215: 5. Bathalon, OV, 2-2.
• 285: 5. Mills, OV, 3-2; Andrew Spooner, Mt. Abe, 1-2.
Andy Kirkaldy is at email@example.com.