IN HIS 11 years leading the Windham High School wrestling team, coach Tom Darrin’s roster usually numbers between 25 and 50, he said.
This season, Windham’s roster tops out at 13, one fewer than the number of weight classes.
Decreased rosters have been one of the many challenges NHIAA wrestling programs have faced this winter due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Hampshire is the only New England state currently competing in high school wrestling.
“It’s been really difficult,” said Darrin, who has coached wrestling for 46 years. “I would say this year has been the hardest year I’ve coached that I can remember.”
Like Darrin, seventh-year Londonderry coach Jason Cucolo has 13 wrestlers this season. While Cucolo said he has never in his tenure had a complete lineup with wrestlers filling all 14 weight classes, his rosters over the years average in the low-to-mid 20s.
“I think everywhere across the board is really hurting numbers-wise — people not feeling comfortable coming out or having underlying conditions,” Cucolo said.
Salem coach Nick Eddy has 17 wrestlers this season, the same number he had last year. Eddy said he feels his team avoided the predicament many teams experienced because his assistant coach, Steve Abraham, became Salem’s head football coach this year. The Blue Devils have four wrestlers, three of whom are in their starting lineup, who joined the program this year and also play for the football team.
“Had that change with our assistant becoming the head coach of the football team (not happened), I think we would have been more affected by numbers,” Eddy said. “I had at least two guys who are returning wrestlers who did not come out because of COVID.”
Wrestlers who chose to compete this season have had to adapt and adjust to the protocols put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The NHIAA highly recommended that schools have wrestlers wear masks during practice and competition and made masks a requirement for the ongoing wrestling postseason tournaments.
Schools like Londonderry and Windham have prohibited locker room use. Salem uses locker rooms only during meet weigh-ins.
Eddy said some schools used two mats during regular-season dual meets. One mat was cleaned after use and the second was used while the other dried. Eddy said Salem used a “fogger” spray, which dries within a minute, to sanitize its mat between matches at home meets.
Cucolo said the Londonderry booster club purchased wrestling-specific sanitizing wipes that its wrestlers use between matches.
Salem and Windham require their wrestlers to answer a COVID-19 symptom questionnaire and have their temperatures checked before each meet and practice.
“For me, it was a lot of stress just about worrying about the kids’ health and families’ health and safety, making sure I was doing everything,” Cucolo said, “because regardless, I think for any coach, when you have a case, even though it’s no one’s fault, you blame yourself. You feel like you should have done more to protect people.”
Cucolo, Eddy and Darrin each said they changed how they normally conduct practices because of the virus. Darrin and Cucolo both avoided wrestling with their athletes during practice and separated them into small groups.
At the beginning of the season, Eddy divided his team into two groups based on experience and essentially held separate practices due to the shortened schedule and being limited to 90-minute sessions.
“We didn’t want to take away from the experienced guys, go back to basics — like Day 1 basics — in a shortened season,” Eddy said. “We can get away with that in a 3½-month season. ...We just didn’t have time to do that.”
Darrin began the season holding practices at one of Windham’s elementary schools because of high demand for gym time among the Jaguars’ winter teams. Transporting two mats to and from the high school for practice became troublesome so Darrin’s team switched to practicing in the high school’s hallways.
“It served its purpose but it wasn’t ideal,” Darrin said.
In a winter season filled with constantly changing schedules across all sports, Salem achieved the seemingly impossible and completed its regular-season slate as originally planned.
The Blue Devils had eight regular-season dual meets, all of which were at home. Darrin said about three of his team’s eight regular-season dual matches were changed from their originally scheduled date. Londonderry, which Cucolo said was quarantined twice, finished with four regular-season dual meets.
“That’s been a big challenge,” Cucolo said. “The mental challenge of being mentally motivated to just a week of practice this week (because) we can’t reschedule another match, it’s tough.”
During that limited regular-season campaign, coaches prepared their wrestlers for a vastly different postseason.
Instead of the traditional method of holding one big meet each for the Division I, Division II and Division III championships, the NHIAA adopted a dual-meet bracket format similar to a basketball or hockey postseason. The Division I and Division II semifinal and the Division III championship dual meets are scheduled for Wednesday.
This year’s dual-meet playoff format forced some coaches to alter their usual tournament strategy, Eddy said.
“I’ve got a guy like (George) Boudreau, who will probably not lose to anyone in New Hampshire, then I may have a guy a couple weights up who’s 0-8 and is a first-year guy,” Eddy said. “It’s a whole different approach as far as going into an individual tournament and a dual-meet tournament.”
Even with all of the hurdles, Cucolo, Eddy and Darrin expressed their gratitude for the chance to have a season.
“I think we’re just all thankful for the opportunity to get something in,” Eddy said. “It’s better than nothing.”
Goffstown’s Chretien, Guertin’s Yabroudy reach milestones
Goffstown senior boys hockey player Grady Chretien became the program’s all-time points leader after his five-point outing in the Grizzlies’ 7-3 win over John Stark/Hopkinton on Feb. 13.
Chretien, who scored four goals and added an assist in the victory, notched a third-period goal that gave him 124 career points, passing Colby Gamache’s previous all-time points mark. Gamache set the previous record last year as a senior.
The Goffstown forward and captain added 11 more points to his career resume last week, logging eight goals and three assists in Goffstown’s victories over Bow and Alvirne/Milford.
Chretien will enter this last week of regular-season play with 97 goals and 38 assists over 75 career games.
“His compete level on the ice is next to no one,” Goffstown coach Ben Slocum said of Chretien in an email. “As the team captain, he leads by example. When Grady is on the ice, something is always going to happen.”
Bishop Guertin senior girls hockey player Brooke Yabroudy recently logged her 100th career point. Yabroudy notched two assists, one of which marked her 100th point, in the Cardinals’ 7-2 triumph at Oyster River/Portsmouth Feb. 6. Yabroudy had 14 points on the season entering BG’s scheduled game at Exeter Saturday night.