Watch out for Ponaganset!

Watch out for Ponaganset!

Ponaganset High senior Sam Lynch, left, shown in action during last winter’s state championship meet at the Providence Career & Technical Academy, captured the 145-pound title by posting a 3-1 overtime win in the finals. The Brown University-bound standout is one of the top grapplers on this season’s squad. (Breeze photo by Eric Benevides)
After placing second at last season’s state meet, veteran wrestling squad set sights on R.I., New England titles

GLOCESTER – After taking second place in last year’s state championship meet, the Ponaganset High wrestling team is striving for not only the school’s first wrestling state title this season, but also the New England championship.

“The guys are ambitious and want to win New Englands,” Ponaganset head coach Mike Joyce said. “I just want them to do the best they can. That’s all I can ask for.”

Joyce is in his third year at the Chieftains’ helm, as well as Ponaganset’s second straight year in Division I. Joyce was optimistic last year, thinking that there was a chance his team could win the state title if they wrestled their best, but Cumberland scored 17½ more points than Ponaganset to take the title.

Joyce said he was really happy with his team’s performance last season, which also included a 14-1 dual-meet record and a share of the Division I-North regular-season title with the Clippers, but it’s not all about winning for the head coach.

“I stress with the guys that it’s not about winning, but progression,” he said. “Our Division I goal was to finish as high as we could, being in the top three teams (at the state meet), and we did that. This year, if we are able to stay healthy, we can progress further, but many things have to happen.”

Joyce wants his team to experience the highs and glory of winning, but he also wants them to progress into a good school. He likes seeing his wrestlers get into colleges, and one who has already committed to an Ivy League school is senior Sam Lynch, who captured the 145-pound state championship last season and will attend Brown University next fall. Joyce not only wants his players to develop as athletes, but as people as well, and to have a work ethic.

The Chieftains graduated Lucas Peckham, who won the 160-pound state title last season, and heavyweight Antonio Colasante, who placed fifth. The Chieftains also lost the services of the Butler brothers, as Billy, now a senior, signed a National Letter of Intent to play college baseball at the University of Rhode Island, and Robert, a sophomore, is still nursing a baseball-related injury.

Joyce said that it was a difficult decision for the older Butler not to continue wrestling, as he really loves being part of a team sport, but he needed to put his future first.

Six other valuable returnees are seniors Richard Andrews and Cole McGill and juniors Brandon Macomber, Tyler Riggs, Trevor Villanova, and Luke Cirka. Andrews (138 pounds), McGill (152), and Riggs (182) placed second, Macomber (170) finished third, and Cirka (220) was fourth at last year’s state meet, and Joyce also said that Villanova, who took fifth place at 132 at the state meet, worked with college coaches over the summer and has really improved.

“What has really helped us is that the kids wrestled the circuit throughout the fall and spring,” Joyce said. “Sam Lynch placed third in a New York tournament and did great in the Pennsylvania Super 32. He was wrestling the best of the best. I’m excited to see how it translates here.”

Junior Josh Frenette wrestled in only six matches last year, as he battled the injury bug, but Joyce is hoping Frenette can replace Peckham. Joyce is also bringing up two freshmen in Tim Cook in the 106-pound weight class and Joyce’s son, Mike Joyce, at 113. Both freshmen won middle school state championships last winter, and Paul Dunn is another freshman who should get a start here or there, depending on the lineup.

While this year’s team comes together, Lynch and his coaching staff are also thinking long-term. They want to see their juniors and seniors peak at the right time and not burn out, and from there, they want them to get into colleges.

Everyone is involved when it comes to the wrestling program at Ponaganset, added Joyce, including the administration and the community, and joining Joyce on the coaching staff are Dave Amato and Steve DiNoble. Amato is the former Brown wrestling coach who is now retired, but is a huge factor as to why the program came together, Joyce said.

“His approach is old school – a team is a team and you rely on the team,” Joyce said about Amato. “And It’s surprising how well the kids respond to him. Dave has tenacity and perseverance to stay on point that produces results.”

DiNoble is also the Ponaganset Middle School coach, and Joyce said they have had over 10 middle school state champions in the last three years. They are all on the same page as the program and the kids continue to progress, Joyce said.

As for Cumberland, the Clippers were the big team to watch out for last year, as was Bishop Hendricken. The Clippers graduated a handful of wrestlers that placed at last winter’s state meet, but Joyce said they would still be good, as will Coventry and Hendricken. He said the surprise team will be Chariho and how they could be a stumbling block.

One of the teams to beat outside of New England this year is Danbury, Conn. and the Chieftains will face them during a holiday tournament on Dec. 30. Danbury has three nationally-ranked wrestlers.

Ponaganset senior Cole McGill, top, is among the top wrestlers back from last year’s team that finished second in the state championship match. A former state champion, McGill took second place in the 152-pound weight class. (Breeze photos by Kayla Panu)
Ponaganset junior Trevor Villanova, shown in action last season, placed fifth in the 132-pound weight class at the RIIL Championships.