Lincoln’s staying put in D-I

Lincoln’s staying put in D-I

Lincoln’s Christian Balon, top, gets ready to apply the finishing touches on a second-round pin of Cranston West’s Rory Perrino during their 220-pound match in Monday night’s Division I dual meet in Cranston. The Lions suffered a 57-21 loss. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Runner-up finish at Smithfield Invitational highlights wrestling team’s excellent stretch

CRANSTON – From the 2012-13 to the 2017-18 season, only one wrestling team in Division II boasted a better winning percentage than Lincoln High, which won nearly 70 percent of its D-II dual meets with a 68-30-1 record and captured two regular-season titles along the way.

But after the 2017-18 season, the RIIL’s offseason realignment sent the Lions to the state’s top division, and after winning just two D-I dual meets last winter, Lincoln entered the final week of this season with three victories, but a chance to tack on a few more wins in its remaining matches.

With realignment on deck again after this season and Woonsocket, Burrillville, and Toll Gate – arguably the three best Division II teams – expected to join the D-I ranks next winter, would Lincoln seek a return to its glory days in D-II?

“Absolutely not,” veteran head coach Mike Tuorto replied on Monday night after his team’s meet on the road against Cranston West. “I have no intention of ever going back down. I like where we’re at, and I like wrestling the Hendrickens and the Cumberlands of the world. To me, it’s more important to wrestle good competition because when you wrestle good competition, your kids get better.

“I don’t want to win paper championships (in D-II). That’s not my goal. I want to be in Division I and take these kids to the next level.”

Tuorto, who is in his 12th season at the Lions’ helm, talked about the state of affairs with his Lions after they lost to some good competition in the Falcons, who recorded seven straight pins midway through the match in posting a 57-21 win. But the loss was just a minor speed bump in what’s been an excellent stretch for the Lions.

On Jan. 24 at the Broncodome in Burrillville, they snapped a five-match losing streak by sweeping a tri-meet with the host Broncos, 58-21, and Smithfield, 48-33. And a week later, the Lions came home from one of their longest road trips of the season with a 42-24 victory over D-I foe South Kingstown.

On Feb. 5, the Lions nearly picked up their third D-I win when they hosted East Providence, but victories in the final two weight classes allowed the Townies to escape with a 36-34 win. Down, but not out, the Lions came back the following night to post a 45-30 win on the road over Cranston East.

That victory raised the Lions’ overall record to 10-9, which includes a 7-1 mark against non-league teams such as Franklin and Lowell, two D-II teams from Massachusetts they defeated in a season-opening dual-meet tournament at Mount Hope, and unbeaten Woonsocket, the lone D-II team from this state to beat Lincoln.

“We’re trending in the right direction,” Tuorto reported. “At this point of the year, we’re just looking to wrestle tough. We want to be peaking, especially with the state tournament coming up.”

When the Lions made the jump to D-I last season, Tuorto knew that victories for his team were going to be hard to come by, especially since he had a young 16-man roster with just one senior on it.

“But individually, I wanted to see as many guys place (at the state tournament) as possible,” Tuorto said. “And we have a chance at six potential guys that could do something this year at the state tournament – not necessarily to place, but to go deep into the second day. To me, that’s important.”

The Lions last competed in a tournament two weekends ago at the Smithfield Invitational at Smithfield High, but entered just nine wrestlers, including a few that were sick and nursing injuries. But that didn’t stop the Lions from placing second and seven wrestlers from pocketing medals.

Senior 182-pounder Eric Chin, who recently joined the Lions’ exclusive 100-win club, and 106-pounder Zach Henault and 113-pounder Nameek Vieira, two freshmen wrestlers who have won Tuorto’s praise, won their weight classes, and senior 132-pounder Allen Setaro and junior 220-pounder Christian Balon placed second.

“We had multiple kids in the finals, and that was big for us, especially from where our program once was years ago to where it is now,” said Tuorto. “That shows me that we’re not a Division II team. It’s crazy to bring as many kids as we did and see almost every one of them medal.”

“I was really excited for the kids to see that they know that we’re getting better and improving, and this is the right time of the season when you want to see that,” he added. “Honestly, that’s all I could ask for at this point.”

The Lions, who didn’t travel out of state this winter for any tournaments, also placed fifth in the North Providence Invitational that was held before Christmas at North Providence High and saw Setaro, Chin, and Balon take second places and Henault and Vieira finish third.

Lincoln’s toughest tournament was the John D. Gorman Memorial Invitational on Jan. 11 at Cumberland High’s Wellness Center, but Balon, Setaro, and Vieira wrestled well and found themselves stepping back onto the medals podium.

Tuorto, who praised his coaching staff, longtime assistant Anthony Turchetta, volunteer assistant Steven Corio, and head middle school coach Craig Henault, will watch his team finish its regular season tonight with a home match against Chariho. On Wednesday night, Lincoln was at Pilgrim battling the Patriots, Mount Pleasant, and Toll Gate.

Lincoln’s Eric Chin, top, pinned Cranston West’s Noah Polion with five seconds to go in the first round of their 182-pound match.