Somewhere before the 2008-09 season it was decided that this would be a “rebuilding” year for Triton’s wrestling team.
Now that the team has finished the regular season at 20-4, you have to wonder what folks were missing before the season started.
“I think the rebuilding idea came from our lack of experience,” was how Coach Shawn McElligott explained it to me before practice recently. “Only one of last year’s starters had gone to the state tournament. We did have a lot of guys back, however, who had earned varsity letters.”
The Vikings ended up finishing second in the Cape Ann League regular season and third in the recent Cape Ann League Open held at Triton.
A key to this team’s success has been the commitment team members have made. “You can’t be a three-month wrestler anymore and be successful,” he explained. “It is practically a year round sport. A lot of guys put in the extra work and it’s paying off now.”
Two of the top wrestlers on the team, junior brothers Danny (three year starter) and Joey Chandler (CAL All-League team), do a lot of wrestling in the off-season in a program at The Barn in Danville, New Hampshire.
“Another place that kids go to extend their wrestling is the North Shore Wrestling Club in Ipswich which is run by the Georgetown wrestling coach,” added Shawn now in his 11th season.
Coach McElligott explained to me that the programs away from high school are similar to AAU in basketball. “There is a group called USA Wrestling,” he said. “They start as early as March and they sponsor tournaments. Joey Chandler went down to Virginia for a national qualifier as part of it.”
Other key performers Coach McElligott mentioned are Colton Blanchette (CAL All-Star), Cody Miller (30 wins), and Brendan O’Neill (11-0 going into this past weekend).
Coach McElligott attended Triton (1990-93) and wrestled for four years when Con Madigan was coach. He then went on to Norwich University where he did club wrestling.
He returned to Triton in 1997 as an assistant wrestling coach. “We had about 12 or 13 wrestlers that year,” he recalled. “When I became head coach the next year the push was to improve the numbers. We got about 20 involved the first year and since then the average has been between 30 and 40.”
There are 14 starters in a meet, so I asked what keeps the rest of the team going. “We are on the lookout for other tournaments. St. John’s Prep, for one, has a JV tournament. I also rotate the lineup quite a bit.”
Coach McElligott believes that Triton’s wrestling program suffers from under-exposure. “We’re better known elsewhere then we are in this area,” he said. “We have the best program history-wise in the school. Look at the banners.” He was referring to the Vikings being state runner-ups in 1976 and 1983, state champs in 1984, and Division 3 North runner-ups in 2005 to prove his point.
There’s little doubt that when it comes to high school wrestling, Coach Dave Castricone of North Andover runs the most successful wrestling program in the area if not in New England with over 600 wins and 29 league titles to his credit. It is interesting that the second stop in Dave’s coaching career, after Masco, was at Triton where he won the state championship in 1984.
“North Andover was here for the CAL Open the other day and we did something special for Coach Castricone,” said Coach McElligott. “We fixed up the plaques from the 1983 and 1984 seasons and showed him our new banners for those accomplishments and he appreciated it.”
(Prepared for The Town Common.)