MIDDLEBURY — Four local wrestlers — three from Vergennes Union High School and one from host Middlebury — stood atop the podiums on Thursday at the end of the Tigers’ two-day annual Hubie Wagner Invitational Tournament.
And for each of them, the tournament title meant something extra.
VUHS senior Ricky Karzmarczyk won the 112-pound crown as the No. 3 seed; earned his 100th win with a 7-2 upset of the No. 2 seed in his last round-robin match; and in the final scored all of his points in the third period to best top-seeded New York Class A champion Blake Retell of Shaker, 4-1. Coaches then voted Karzmarczyk the tournament’s outstanding wrestler.
Retell and Karzmarczyk entered the final period tied at 0-0. Karzmarczyk chose the down position, thinking that a single escape point might be enough to win the match. Instead, he scored a two-point reversal. Retell escaped to make it 2-1, but Karzmarczyk clinched the win with a takedown.
Karzmarczyk finished the tournament with a 4-0 record that included two pins and 103 career victories.
He described his mindset in the third period.
“I just stuck it together and kept my cool and said to myself, I want to win,” he said. “And it paid off.”
Karzmarczyk was just as happy for his winning teammates, Cara Strona and Geoffrey Grant.
“We have a tradition that we wear our championship T-shirts after every tournament in school,” he said. “We’ll have three shirts running around the school.”
MUHS senior Kody Murray, also a No. 3 seed, won at 135 pounds by pinning No. 4 seed Paul Hanna of Granville in 3:25. Murray compiled a 6-0 tournament record that included four pins and a major decision.
His toughest match came in the semifinals against second-seeded Brad Averill of Shaker, N.Y. Murray trailed, 4-3 with eight seconds left, but tied the match with an escape. Early in overtime, he hauled down Averill to earn a 6-4 victory.
Asked how he was able to pull off that rally, Murray revealed he had extra inspiration.
“What gave me motivation was that my mom is bed-bound, so I promised her I would win the tournament for her,” he said. “So I gave it everything I had and pulled through.”
Murray also wanted to win his home tournament for the first time, and said a summer that included 45 matches as well as hours of mat time helped him get to the podium.
“I worked hard for this,” he said. “For three years, I always got knocked out in the first two rounds. So to come back and win it feels good.”
Grant, a second-seeded junior who won at 160 pounds, came through with arguably the most dominant performance of the local winners. He finished 7-0; won his first four matches by first-period pins; prevailed in his semifinal, 9-4, over the No. 3 seed; and cruised past No. 4 Sam Fortin of Champlain Valley in the final, 13-3.
When Grant was introduced along with the other finalists before the last round, the announcer noted Grant was the Vermont runner-up at 171 last spring and took second place at two earlier tournaments this winter. Grant also came just short at several tournaments last season.
Unsurprisingly, Grant said he, too, had extra motivation last week at MUHS.
“I just wanted it. I’ve been taking second. I took second in almost every tournament last year. I took second the first two this year,” Grant said. “I’m sick of taking second. I needed to break through.”
Like Murray, Grant — who like Karzmarcyk is wrestling at a lighter weight than last winter — said there is no magic formula for better results.
“I wrestled a lot this summer with the Vergennes-Colchester club. I went to a couple tournaments. I pushed harder in practice,” Grant said. “It’s just the hard work.”
Strona, a junior, made history by winning at 96 pounds for the second straight year. Her 2009 title was the tournament’s second ever won by a female wrestler (Mount Abe’s Courtney Martell won the first), and Strona is now the only female two-time winner.
Strona breezed to the title bout with a 6-1 win and two first-period pins. But Granville’s Damian Duffy — the loser of that 6-1 match — provided a challenge in the final. Strona was probably better technically, but conceded Duffy might have been stronger. But Duffy also seemed reluctant to engage, and Strona took a 2-0 lead on stalling points.
With Duffy in the top position in the third, Strona could not shake him for most of the period, and once was penalized for stalling. Finally, she reversed him late in the period to take a 4-1 lead, enough to prevail, 4-3, despite Duffy’s last-second reversal.
Strona said she just tried to “stay alive and keep on moving.”
“He was pretty strong. I couldn’t do too much to fight against him. I tried not to get on my back and stand up,” she said.
Strona spoke for all the wrestlers when she described what it was like to prevail at the MUHS tournament. Its round-robin format ensures that all the wrestlers see plenty of action, unlike the elimination formats of most tournaments. But that also stretches the action over two days.
“It feels great, obviously. Tiring, though,” Strona said. “It’s tough ... The two days, it’s a lot of stress and being tired and waiting around.”
MUHS coach Jon Ashley agreed that format challenges the athletes.
“This is definitely a grind,” Ashley said. “Anyone who makes the finals here has come through a lot.”
But coaches also praise the format — VUHS coach Nate Kittredge said he is fan — because all the wrestlers see roughly the same number of matches, not just the top seeds. Ashley said that is by design.
“We’re all trying to build toward the end of the year,” Ashley said “And the more mat time the kids get, the better they’ll be.”
A fifth local finalist was MUHS senior Jarrod Ashley, the second seed at 130. Ashley who won six matches, three by pin and one by major decision, before falling to top-seeded Ryan Stearns of CVU, 10-4, in the final.
Other place winners from MUHS, VUHS or Mount Abe were:
• VUHS senior Morgan Stinchfield, fourth at 171 pounds. Stinchfield gave 171-pound champion Makhmud Kachaliyev of Harwood — a summer training partner — his best match of the tournament in the semifinals, a 9-8 decision.
• VUHS senior Aaron Desabrais, fourth at 215. Desabrais finished with a 3-3 record and three pins.
• Mount Abe senior Andrew Spooner, fourth at 285. Spooner also finished with a 3-3 record and three pins.
Other local wrestlers who won at least one match were:
• Joe Palmer, MUHS, 1-2 with a pin at 96.
• James Mason, MUHS, 2-3 with two pins at 119.
• Eric Raymond, Mount Abe, 1-3 with a pin at 125.
• Mariah Clark Mount Abe, 1-4 at 130.
• Nate Karzmarczyk, VUHS, 1-4 with a pin at 130.
• Ben Cook, MUHS, 2-4, with a pin and a technical fall at 135.
• T.J. George, Mount Abe, 2-3 with a pin at 135.
• Matthew Sweeney, Mount Abe, 1-4 with a pin at 140.
• J.T. O’Brien, VUHS, 2-4 with a pin at 152.
• Jesse Morris, VUHS, 4-2 with two pins at 152. Morris scored a dramatic, 8-7 win with a reversal as time expired in his final match.
• Mike Wetzel, Mount Abe, 1-4 at 160.
• Luke Nadeau, MUHS, 2-3 with two pins at 160.
• Skyler Shute, MUHS, 1-4 with a pin at 171.
• Jakob Trautwein, MUHS, 3-2 with three pins at 171.
• Tommy Charnley, Mount Abe, 1-3 with a pin at 189.
• Gabe Laberge, MUHS, 3-1 with two pins at 189. Laberge scored points with the crowd in his lone loss — he spent a combined three minutes on his back fighting off pins against Mount Anthony’s Sean Willette and fell behind, 10-3, and then scored the final five points of the quarterfinal match before time ran out on his comeback.
In all, 22 teams competed. Granville, N.Y. (247) won the team crown, with Shaker (194) in second. A partial Mount Anthony team (158.5) took fourth and was the top Vermont team, and VUHS was fifth (141). MUHS (116) tied for eighth with Mill River, and Mount Abe (38) finished 16th.
Ashley, whose host team hopes to get its top wrestler, injured senior 160-pounder Bryan Ashley-Selleck, back this week, was happy to see at least one Tiger take home a trophy.
“Kody wrestled a nice intense match, which we kind of expected. He faced the same kid in the Granville tournament in the semifinals, and they had a pretty exciting match,” Ashley said.
Especially considering his Commodores were shorthanded due to injuries and academics, Kittredge said he was pleased with the results.
“There were ups and downs, but we finished on top with three in the finals,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with those guys and the whole team, really.”
Kittredge is looking forward to getting his whole team back, and, like any coach, said he won’t let any of the Commodores rest on their laurels.
“It is a good stepping-stone for them, and their spirits should be high,” he said. “But we’re going to be right back to the grind next week, because if they want it bad, which they show they do, they’ve got to keep working hard. I’m very proud of them, but it’s not over yet.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.