WILLIAMSTOWN -- With approximately 20 wrestling teams competing in the same high school gymnasium, it's easy to get caught up in the crowd.
Between championship and consolation, or ‘wrestleback,' rounds, the matches don't stop on the four mats at Mount Greylock's Mountie Invitational. Entire teams will gather around their coaches, shouting encouragement to teammates on the mats. Assistant coaches and/or parents have their cameras and iPads out, either photographing or recording video of the action.
As one match ends, another begins almost immediately, with two teams' wrestlers and coaches replaced by another team's wrestlers and coaches.
This is invitational-style wrestling at its best -- and it comes at the perfect time of year for wrestlers like Greylock's Ross Jackson.
"It's a lot of hard wrestling that prepares us for hard wrestlers [at the Western Mass. tournament]," the Mounties' senior captain said Saturday.
Jackson was one of approximately 250 wrestlers on the mats for the Invitational, which began late Saturday morning and continued into the night. All four Berkshire County teams were involved, as were teams from New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
During the early rounds, there was very little down time for the coaching staffs. At approximately 2:45 p.m., Mount Everett coach Dave Lupiani was hustling to Mat 4 in the back corner of the MGRHS gym to watch 195-pounder Tracy Anstett. Her match finished quickly, so Lupiani was able to hustle back across the gym to Mat 1 in time for 170-pound Nate Turnbough's match.
"It gives me a good exercise, I guess," Lupiani said with a laugh. "This year, we have so many coaches to help out, it's actually nice. I didn't even have to coach too much. Even if I [couldn't] be there, the guys I've coached in the past are taking over."
As former Western Mass. individual champions like Jon LaCasse of Mount Greylock and Joe Pasquarelli of Taconic watched their alma maters' teams, former state champion and All-Eagle MVP Brian Clay was serving as an assistant coach for the Everett squad. He and Eagles assistant Dan Lanoue were the men in the chairs as Turnbough fought through nagging hip and groin pain in an early-round loss.
Lupiani is no longer a wrestling coach who will jump on the mats and grapple with his athletes, as many are known to do. That's why it helps to have someone like Clay on the mats in practice.
"He's on the mat, showing his moves," Lupiani said. "I trust all the guys, because I've coached them and wrestled them when I could wrestle [in practice]."
The approach in a weekend invitational -- like the Western Mass. meet, which will be held in two weeks at Monument Mountain -- is much different than that which goes into your average mid-week, two-team county dual. Taconic 220-pound sophomore Dave Jones, for example, would only wrestle once in a dual. Saturday, he expected to wrestle at least four matches, and watch many more than that.
"One match, you're one and done," Jones said. "When you have more than one, you keep wanting to fight until you're done [for the day].
"You've got to make sure you know who's wrestling and when you're ready, get fired up and wrestle your own match."
Monument coach Gordie Soule watched plenty of matches himself Saturday. He expected he would see between 39 to 50 matches, and that's just from coaching his Spartans.
In the average match, there's plenty of shouting from coach to wrestler. So how does Soule keep his voice fresh for the entire Invitational?
"I don't," he said. "It wears out at the end of the day."
He was in a similar situation as the Everett staff in wrestlebacks.
The Spartan staff - Soule, assistant Simon Jones and David Colli, with managers and a number of wrestlers -- presided over Robert Kahlstrom's match at 126 pounds, then hustled across the gym to watch Nate Bradbury's 120-pound match. After a quick break, the Monument contingent was on Mat 2 for Stephen Cormier's 132-pound bout.
Soule would love to be in the chair for every Monument match, but knows that, in wrestlebacks, it might not always be possible.
It's that talking - well, more like shouting during a match -- that Jackson finds helpful. Even with the same level of shouting going on at four mats in the same crowded gym, the Mountie can pick out the voices he needs to hear in the 6 minutes or less of his match.
"You can hear everybody yelling from the side, so that's pretty encouraging, to let people know what to do," he said.
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