Ponganset wrestling going the distance

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Ponganset wrestling going the distance

Roger Forand

Roger Forand

Roger Forand

By Eric Rueb, Journal Sports Writer

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Mike Joyce isn’t worried about proving anything to anyone.

Last winter, in his third year as head coach, the Ponaganset wrestling program won its first state and New England championships. Both raised some eyebrows in wrestling circles.

“I know that a lot of people in the New England area said, ‘Where did these guys come from?’” Joyce said. “But in all reality, we started this a long time ago.”

Eleven years ago to be exact. That’s when he formed a wrestling club for elementary and junior high age kids. They would not only learn how to perform but come to love the sport.

“I’m very happy with the outcome of last year, but I’m not satisfied,” Joyce says. “I won’t be satisfied until Ponaganset is a nationally ranked wrestling team.”

All coaches in all sports should take a page from Joyce’s book.

His goal when he took over at Ponaganset in 2015 was building something that would last. He saw it first-hand wrestling under Ohio Hall of Fame wrestling coach Graham Coghill and started at the youth level, getting kids interested in the sport and learning proper technique. He saw first-hand how that was done, having wrestled under Ohio Hall of Fame wrestling coach Graham Coghill. It starts at the youth level, when you first get kids interested in the sport and teach them proper technique.

“Kids get burnt out very early. In wrestling especially, you only have so many years where a kid can train religiously,” Joyce says. “If you use those years in elementary and middle school, by the time they’re in high school or college they’re burnt out.”

That’s why there are very few youth tournaments in Joyce’s program. He’s not worried about winning titles that do more for parents’ egos than help a child develop. He wants his wrestlers prepared for when the sport actually means something.

He’s pleased with the titles, but he’s more excited to see how his wrestlers are understanding what he’s trying to build at Ponaganset.

“When you focus on progress and you’re dealing with high school-aged athletes, things can happen very rapidly if you understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Joyce says. “You can have a rapid amount of improvement in a year or 18-month period, when you have guys on your team trained properly and they mature physically.”

What Joyce isn’t doing is putting pressure on this year’s team. The Chieftains will have a target on their back for every dual meet and any tournament they wrestle in. It’s a small price to pay for success but the Chieftains are more than ready.

While they lost two New England champions in Sam Lynch and Cole McGill as well as third-place state finisher Josh Frenette, Ponaganset returns state champions Mike Joyce, the son of the coach, and Tyler Riggs and third-place finisher Tim Cook.

The talent goes beyond just last year’s top finishers. Each class is important to the Chieftains’ success. The lineup gets every class involved whether it’s the upperclassmen with seniors Trevor Villanova, Lucas Christopher, Brandon Macomber, Matteo Ezechili and Andrej Toth or juniors Colby Burlingame and Jeremy Girard. The younger classes are also deep, including sophomores Anthony Bottella-Robshaw and Paul Dunn and freshman Justin Hood, who finished fifth in last year’s middle school New England championships.