Huskies win first-ever state championship 

Eleven Huskies place as Grifka wins third state title 

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Eleven Huskies placed in the top six as the Mt. Hope High School wrestling team won its first ever RIIL State Championship at the Providence Career and Technical Academy on Saturday. The Huskies scored 197 points to beat the likes of Bishop Hendricken, second with 176 points and Ponagansett, third with 167 points. Mt. Hope had just two finalists, but won as a team due to the amount of wrestle backs.

“The championship means a lot,” said Huskies senior co-captain Nick Gomes. “We’ve worked hard the whole season. My whole career. We have come close before, but this year we dominated.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” said Huskies head coach Eric Francis. “This is awesome. These kids did something special. It’s a great feeling. Having been part of all of the local programs, having been a Bristol wrestler and a Bristol coach and to always come so close, but never get that win. It takes a lot of people to build this program. Warren youth programs, Jay Grifka, Kickemuit Middle School head coach, it’s definitely a community effort to have this happen.”

Grifka dominates — again

Senior co-captain Cory Grifka won the 182-pound state championship, defeating Hendricken's Nathan Reid by pin 4:55 into the match. The senior worked over Reid before taking him down and wrapping him up with an outside single for the pin. Grifka, who has won three state championships and lost just one match during his high school career, pinned every opponent on his way to the title. Cameron Gois of Cumberland, Authur Koala of Tolman, Hayk Grigorian of LaSalle and Reid all fell to Grifka, who wrapped up his high school career with a record of 149-8 and 70 pins, in a combination of regular season, states and New England matches. Grifka will attend Western New England College next fall to study secondary math, and to wrestle. 

“I couldn’t feel better right now honestly,” Grifka said after pinning Reid. “It means a lot to me. I knew the team and myself had a shot to win the whole thing. I wanted to go out and get as many points as I could throughout this tournament. That means pinning. It’s all for these guys. My coach, my high school. Everything man. I’m so happy right now.” 

“Cory is the rock of this team,” Coach Francis said. “He’s the team leader. Everybody looks up to him, the team follows him and his attitude. With his wins he pulled us through for our, first time, championship for Bristol, Warren and Mt. hope.”

Wrestlers place

Senior co-captains Nick Gomes and Liam Mallon each placed at their weight. The 126-pound Gomes placed third, beating Coventry’s Luke Legasse by a 7-3 decision. Gomes won his first match, pinning Daniel Ruiz of Central, but lost to Brian Garcia of Westerly in the second round. The senior wrestled back into the tournament, pinning Carlos Monteiro of Johnston and Sincer Pompey of Hope for the right to face Legasse for third place.

“A lot of my teammates wrestled back and scored a lot of points,” Gomes said. “That’s one of the reasons why we won. If they had packed it in, it would have cost us the championship.” 

The 132-pound Mallon placed fourth, losing a close decision, 11-9, to Ponaganset’s Andrew Real. Mallon received a bye in the first round, then pinned Parker Hughes of Barrington in 13 seconds. But he lost an 8-2 decision in the semifinal round to Jack Schartner of North Kingstown. The co-captain wrestled back to beat Maurice Cooper 5-3 before losing to Reall. 

“It feels amazing,” Mallon said after the victory. “I wanted to win this for our coach. He’s been great for us, all four years.”

Sophomore 145-pounder Brock Pacheco loss a 6-3 decision to North Kingstown’s Aiden Zarella to place second at the tournament. Pacheco pinned Nomar Navarro of West Warwick, beat Jose Echeverria of Johnston by a 9-0 decision and won the semifinal match with a slim 2-1 decision over Matt Maroney of Hendricken. 

Atley Jenness, at 285 pounds, wrestled back to place third by pinning Burrillville’s Colby Stockwell, 2:27 into the match. Jenness beat Kianu Duarte of East Providence and Riley Wojo by decision before falling to Hendricken state champ Adolfo Betancur in the semifinals. 

“Atley came in and wanted to be part of this,” said Coach Francis. “He was trying to work, balance school, balance wrestling and somehow he managed to do it, put his best foot forward and take care of business.” 

Pacheco places second

Sophomore 145 pounder Brock Pacheco loss a 6-3 decision to North Kingstown’s Aiden Zarella to place second at the tournament. Pacheco pinned Nomar Navarro of West Warwick, beat Jose Echeverria of Johnston by a, 9-0, decision and won the semifinal match with a slim, 2-1, decision over Matt Maroney of Hendricken. 

Brock is an amazing beast of a wrestler,” said Mallon.

Team takes care of business

The Huskies won the championship due to the amount of wrestlers that wrestled back to place after losing in the championship round. It was going to take a total team effort and Coach Francis pulled his team aside for a little pep talk before the medal rounds.

I told them this is something that has never happened before,” said Coach Francis. "You have a chance to do something bigger than your selves. To achieve something that no one at this school ever has. You can come back to the school as an old man at 50, 60, 70 year’s old and your trophy will still be in that case. It’s time to go take care of business and we need wins.” 

And wins they got. Eleven of the fourteen Huskies placed sixth or better. 106 pound freshman Elijah Bland placed fourth, 113 pound freshman Josh Vitullo placed fifth, 120 pound sophomore Carson Correia placed sixth, 138 pound junior Ethan Bland placed fifth, 152 pound freshman James Thibaudeau placed fifth and 160 pound junior Riley Furtado placed fifth. 195 pound junior Craig Veader, 170 pound sophomore Drystan McClain and 220 pound freshman Brain Conway also wrestled at the tournament for the Huskies and helped out during the regular season and at the tournament. 

“We knew that if we could keep winning we could distance ourselves,” Coach Francis said. “This year the wrestle back guys took care of business for us. And our big guys up top were just pulling the reigns helping them get there.” 

“I got to have the icing on the cake,” said Coach Francis. “But they are all of the layers of it. A lot of the schools have wrestlers coming in from everywhere. We are a home grown team and all of these people made it happen. There’s a lot of people out there bringing it. It was a good day at the office, I’ll take that any day.” 

 

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.