Monday, June 23, 2003

Wrestlers from Maine, Nebraska take it to the mat

Bob McPhee Staff Writer 

The tradition continues as the 19th annual Friendship Series resumes this week, with wrestlers from Nebraska and Maine competing in the event. The exchange program, sanctioned by the American Athletic Union, will be held at four different venues throughout Maine.

The Series' schedule is as follows: Tuesday, June 24, Noble High School; Thursday, June 26, Oxford Hills High School; Saturday, June 28, Belfast; and Monday, June 30, Lisbon. The series has alternated between the two states since 1985.

Maine wrestlers scheduled to compete at one of the sites include: New England champion Decota Cotten, Noble; three-time state champions Joey Schreiber, Lisbon; Brandon Hamilton, Skowhegan; Levi Resmen, Camden Hills; Lisbon two-time state champions Derek Guisto and Adam Lord; Mountain Valley state champions Ian Venskus, Chris Smith and Kirk Nelson. The Oxford Hills site includes Viking teammates Seth McAlister and Josh Laird; Travis Child and Jason McPherson, Mountain Valley; Seth Webber, Mt. Blue. Lisbon will also have Troy Clark, Nate Hix and Robert Hespe.

"The purpose is still friendship," Maine team leader Dennis Walch said. "It also allows us to show some Nebraska kids a great time. I think the hosts get as much out of it as the wrestlers and coaches. It's great to show off your own state. The competition is top notch."

The exchange program is the nation's longest running between two states. It was co-founded by Winslow's Wally LaFountain who ran the program until 1994. Walch has been the team leader ever since them. Tom McCann of Kearney has been the Nebraska leader for the last 18 years.

"I really believe that the tradition of the exchange is much stronger today," McCann said. "This is compared to the first few years. We have built a special relationship between the two states that goes way beyond wrestling."

The major difference between the states is the number of talented wrestlers available. The mid-western state has 200 schools that offer wrestling, compared to approximately 55 wrestling teams throughout Maine. So it's not surprising the Cornhuskers lead in matches won by a huge margin. Maine led 39-38 in 1988 for its only lead ever.

The traveling team has an advantage because the wrestlers compete in matches every other day. The lack of time and location to work on physical conditioning has been a constant draw back. Maine wrestlers try holding a couple practices prior to the actual competitions, but it also requires a lot of self-discipline and determination by each individual to be prepared.

"Kids don't prepare themselves," Walch said. "Truthfully, unless they are wrestling in tournaments, they can't really prepare. That's why we have a 30-second rest between periods. The kids in Nebraska don't prepare well enough either. The traveling team always has the conditioning advantage."

Nebraska holds a two-day training camp prior to the trip east. The recent camp featured the 2003 NCAA Division II Coach of the Year Marc Bauer (former Friendship Series wrestler) from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and several NCAA Champions. Its purpose includes: conditioning, attitude, and behavior and expectations.

At this time of year, the humidity is tough on wrestlers - especially with the high levels of humidity in gymnasiums. A 30-second rest between periods was instituted several years ago to allow athletes to catch their breaths.

"Conditioning is generally a factor," McCann said. It's about the third period for most of the wrestlers during the summer. I think the 30-second rest period has really helped out with better wrestling. The traveling team usually gets much better by the third dual and tends to have a better advantage."

The matches highlight the contrasting styles between the wrestlers and it usually results in one-sided victories. Nebraska wrestlers have an opportunity to compete year-round and that translates in to gaining valuable experience. The Nebraska takedown skills are superior, but if a score remains close then Maine wrestlers can gain momentum on the mat.

"I think this may be psychological, but most assuredly physiological as well," McCann said. "I think that most coaches stress all phases of wrestling in our state. However, I think that freestyle and Greco-Roman may be wrestled more out here and this might give the takedown advantage to Nebraska."