Six individual state high school wrestling champions from the Midcoast were crowned this winter.
And whether they pinned opponents or outlasted them for the full match, it was a banner campaign for these area mat student-athletes, who proved to be the best of the best in their weight classes.
Those state champions included twins Gavin and Maddie Ripley of Oceanside and Henry Pharris, Julian Henderson, Savannah Eastler and Hayleigh Martz of Camden Hills.
Pharris, Eastler and Martz are seniors, Henderson a junior and the Ripleys sophomores.
All were grateful to wrestle again after being forced from the mat in 2020-21 due to the pandemic.
Pharris (182 pounds), and Henderson (120) collected titles at the state Class A championships and Gavin Ripley (126) at Class B on Saturday, Feb. 19 at separate venues, while Maddie Ripley (113), Eastler (120) and Martz (160) won state titles at the state girls championship on Wednesday, Feb. 23 at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln.
Gavin Ripley, who also plays football and baseball for the Mariners, pinned down his first state Class B title in the 126-pound class, when he pinned MCI’s Keith Cook in the championship final.
Gavin said: “It feels great to be a Maine state champ,” but that his more difficult matches came in the semifinal round against York’s Jim Neal and an overtime win to claim the regional title over Dan Marquis of Wells.
“At regionals I had a Wells returning champ in the finals, winning in overtime with a blast double directly to his back [decision win 6-1],” he said. “Before the overtime it was a 1-1 point match. I knew after having such tough competition at regionals it was only going to get harder at states and all-states. The states match that was the most exciting was in the semifinals ending in a decision 3-1 win over York. The match was extremely tough with a hard-fought take down in the second period.”
Gavin dislocated his thumb during football season and “wasn’t sure I was going to be able to compete after missing so much.”
“The first day back I ended up spraining my ankle probably due to lack of conditioning in the Belfast tournament, which added another couple weeks of light workouts. A lot of support tape on my ankle and thumb later I started competing again.”
He went on to win conference, regional and state crowns, placed first in the New England qualifier on Saturday, Feb. 26 at Mount Ararat High School in Topsham and went on to finish 1-2 at New Englands Friday and Saturday, March 4-5 at the Providence Career and Technical Academy in Providence, R.I.
“New Englands was an eye-opener into the level of dedication required to succeed at this level for next year,” he said. “I had a good day on the mat with close matches against the placers. I always hope to be better than the year prior. So next year I will work to place at New Englands.”
His twin sister, Maddie, after winning league (first female champ in Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference history), conference and regional titles, nearly became the first female to win a coed state championship in Maine history before falling to Mattanawcook Academy’s Deegan Tidswell.
She followed with a girls state title as she pinned Lilly Lebel of Mount Ararat/Brunswick in the championship final and went on to win the girls New England championship in her weight class on Sunday, Feb. 19 in Massachusetts.
Maddie said: “My girls states finals match felt great to win because it had been a really tough season and this was a chance to excel in a more even environment.” She added she looks forward to girls wrestling continuing to grow in Maine.
“This year ended much better than I had thought it would,” said Ripley, who also plays field hockey and softball for Oceanside. “I knew it would be a tough season after having had a year off and going into high school feeling out of practice. I can attribute a lot of my success to hard work and a great team full of training partners, especially Phoenix Martinez. We never stopped working hard every practice of the season. I am also thankful to have great coaching in my step dad, Jason Yates, and the support of my twin brother, Gavin.”
She added one of her most exciting matches of the season was her first match in the New England qualifier against Mason VanGieson of Sanford. She finished fourth at the qualifier, just short of qualifying for New Englands. The top three at the qualifier advance.
“It was a back-and-forth match that I was on the short end of at the 30-second point by one point and I went ahead in the last few seconds by turning my opponent from Sanford for a three-point back exposure. I also feel my finals match versus Erskine Academy in the KVACs was exciting. I knew my match would be tough since I had only beaten my opponent earlier in the season by a few points. The match went all three periods ending in a win by pin with 26 seconds left.”
Maddie also is a standout softball and field hockey player for the Mariners.
For Eastler, admittedly, her success on the mats caught her a bit by surprise.
“I thought it would be a fun challenge for my last year of high school,” she said. “My primary sport is rock climbing, which I just do for fun, although I plan to compete in college.”
She did not expect to go undefeated in her weight class, winning three matches by pin en route to an individual state in her first season in the sport. But that is exactly what she did.
“I’m grateful I had the opportunity to compete in a girls state championship, especially since it’s a relatively new event and nothing this season was guaranteed,” she said. “Ultimately, I didn’t care too much about winning, but it was nice to have that metric of improvement, since just a few months earlier I knew almost nothing about wrestling.”
She said in her semifinal and finals matches, “I knew my opponents were better than me, so I had to be aggressive and stay in control the whole time to win.”
So, she went to her bread and butter — the head-and-arm throw — and “stayed in position for a pin.”
“I was shocked when I won my finals match, and so grateful to end a great season with a state title,” she said. “I owe it all to my teammates, coaches, and parents for supporting me. Wrestling has taught me some really important lessons, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity to participate this year.”
Eastler has done track and cross country in the past, but also has competed at the national level in Olympic-style 10-meter air rifle.
For Henderson, his state championship win was the culmination of years of hard work since his time toiling as a member of the Camden-Rockport Middle School team.
“I would say since I was in fifth or sixth grade and I first went to a high school practice and saw all of the names on the state champ wall,” he said. “So to finally have my name join the others is a feeling of accomplishment, as well as satisfaction.”
Henderson’s name officially joined the ranks of Windjammer state champions after besting Cameron Frost of Bonny Eagle 6-4 in the state final.
He said he got a late two-point reversal on Frost “and only seeing four seconds left” on the clock.
“After the buzzer went off I remember looking to my coaches and dad as my hand was raised, and then running over and giving them the biggest hug and thank you for helping me throughout the years.”
He went on to finish second in his weight class in the New England qualifier and went on to win three matches at New Englands, which “was a really fun way to end the season.”
“With the pressure of the state championships off and my goals already accomplished, going down and winning three matches was just a bonus to an already successful season,” he said. “It made me realize that I can compete on a higher level than just the state.”
For Pharris, who also is on the Camden Hills soccer (goalie), sailing and Ultimate Frisbee teams, his state championship win over Kyle Graffam of Mount Ararat/Brunswick “definitely feels well-deserved.”
“I’ve felt it once before back in eighth grade [as a Pine Tree Wrestling League champion], and I really think it’s about following a pattern,” he said. “Put your nose to the grindstone a little harder than everyone else, and in four years pop your head back up and you’ll be the best out there.”
He added he had defeated his opponent in the championship final — Graffam — on two previous occasions, but gave “major props to Ararat, that match was certainly the hardest he’d ever wrestled me.”
“He switched his style to be more aggressive so I kinda had to pivot,” Pharris said. “I think I was down at least a couple points. Luckily I would say my best position is down. So I did what I know well, and hit a move I’ve hit a hundred times before, my favorite move, the Peterson roll. I wouldn’t be surprised if his coach briefed him on it, in fact, I think I had tried it once already that match. When I hit it it was tight, super tight, not just good skill tight, but good luck tight. So I take him over and he’s on his back. And I pause and hold him there for a few seconds to make sure I got all my back points. But just as I began to reposition my hand to spin around to a more stable top position. Boom, whistle, it’s done.”
Pharris took first at the New England qualifier in his weight class, but also cracked three ribs in the process before going 0-2 at New England’s.
“I’m not claiming I’d make it to the top, but if I was in better health and got some better matchups I’m hoping it’s fair to say I would’ve gone a solid bit farther,” he said. “That said I don’t mean to discredit wrestlers from the other states. Bigger states have bigger competition and bigger competition makes better wrestlers.”
Also the senior class president, Pharris is committed to attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute and will wrestle for WPI.
Martz said winning a state title “was my goal heading into my senior season.”
She has spent the last six years training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and competes in tournaments around New England, where she currently boasts a 27-match win streak.
Martz spends most days “working out before school, working hard in the wrestling room and also going straight to my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training after wrestling every day.”
“I wasn’t going to let any other girl outwork me,” she said. “I chase the feeling of getting my hand raised after a hard-fought win. It’s the best feeling in the world. The reason I started wrestling my sophomore year was to improve my stand-up in Jiu Jitsu, but I ended up falling in love with the sport.”
After her sophomore year, she joined the Maine Trappers Wrestling Club and has gained valuable experience out of season.
She went undefeated against other female wrestlers this season, including a 12-6 win over Elizabeth Bernier of Bucksport in the championship final.
“I was the most nervous I’ve ever been for any match,” she said. “When the match started and we tied up, I felt a lot stronger and faster than her. I could easily control her head and break her posture. Because of this I primarily used front headlocks and snap downs. My coach, PK [Pat Kelly], used strategy and had me let her back up whenever I took her down. I did this throughout the match, taking her down many times but never getting taken down, resulting in me winning my girls state champion title.”
Like Maddie Ripley, Martz went on and won her weight class in the girls New England championships on Feb. 19 in Massachusetts.
Martz currently teaches chidlren’s classes at Flow Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Rockland, but has had interest from colleges and is “considering continuing my education and women’s wrestling career.”