YORK – For the last four wrestling seasons, Nick Vogel has been a one-man team.
Greely does not offer wrestling. So Vogel, like several other area wrestlers, sought an alternative and found a wrestling home at another high school. In his case it was Windham High, a 30-minute drive from home and school in Cumberland.
Sitting in the bleachers awaiting his next match at the season-opening Sullivan Duals at York High, Vogel was asked if training with Windham has been a good decision.
“I sometimes look at these other teams and I don’t know if I would have fit in any better anywhere else. I really don’t think it could have worked out better,” Vogel said. “The only difference between me and the other guys is I wear a different singlet.”
As an independent wrestler, Vogel is with the team but not officially part of it. Independent wrestlers are eligible to compete in year-end tournaments and get as many matches as they can during the season as a non-scoring extra match at the end of dual meets.
Jared Jensen, a Brunswick senior and two-time state champ, practices at Mt. Ararat, where his father, Erick, is the head coach.
Jensen, the 152-pound Class A champion last season, isn’t the only independent state champ. Cheverus senior Iain Whitis, in his second year training with Deering, is the reigning Class A champ at 120.
At last year’s state meet, Brunswick and Cheverus tied for 13th place, thanks to Jensen and Whitis.
“Cheverus beat Deering, which was pretty fun to mention on the bus ride home,” Whitis said.
Abraham Eaton is another independent wrestler. Eaton is a home-schooled sophomore in the Gorham district who trains with Westbrook.
Sometimes independent wrestlers bring along a classmate or two and form a mini team.
That’s the case for Whitis this season. His freshman brother, Aidan, and two other Cheverus students have joined the Deering program.
At Windham, Vogel has been joined this year by Gray-New Gloucester freshman Tristan Herod.
“Our doors are always open to anyone who’s willing to wrestle. We don’t turn anyone away,” Windham Coach Kurt Pelletier said.
On the surface, the life of an independent wrestler seems full of disadvantages.
To be sure, there are some.
An independent wrestler can forget about getting home-school fan support.
“In four years I’ve never had a home meet,” Whitis said.
While Whitis only has a three-minute commute from Cheverus to Deering High, travel to and from practice can be an issue for independent wrestlers and is their responsibility.
Independent wrestlers often get fewer bouts during a season, said Westbrook Coach Jon Nicholas.
“When we have a dual meet, if the other team is a smaller team, they’re going to wrestle the Westbrook kid first, and then sometimes it’s hard to get a match for (the independent),” Nicholas said. “That’s kind of disappointing for the kid who works hard, makes the trip and makes his weight.”
Most of all, there is a feeling of detachment from your own high school.
“My friends at school just really don’t understand what wrestling is about,” Jensen said.
“The culture isn’t in your school,” Whitis said. “They don’t understand why I’m not eating or drinking anything on a Thursday and Friday, and people think you’re weird.”
From a coaching and administrative standpoint, there is the added paperwork at meets, and logistic concerns.
But it’s obvious from talking to Whitis, Vogel, Jensen and their coaches that once a commitment is solidified, any drawbacks are far outweighed by the benefits — for both independent wrestlers and the host program.
“Any time you have a high-caliber athlete in your practice room, that always helps a lot,” said Erick Jensen. “The kids that do it, and stick with it, are usually pretty good at it.”
Whitis knows he’s benefitted from his association with Deering and its coach, Al Kirk.
Cheverus had a team when Whitis was a freshman and a sophomore, but he was the only healthy member of the team by the end of his sophomore year.
That season, he had only 12 regular-season matches before winning the Western Class A regional. By that point, many top contenders have had more than 40 bouts.
In the state final he lost to Marshwood’s Tyler Davidson. There was no shame in that, considering that Davidson is now a three-time state champ, but Whitis had beaten Davidson three times during the regular season.
“I felt that it was really unfair. He has a great program around him and great drill partners every day, and every match in the regular season he got closer and closer to beating me,” Whitis said. “I could see how not having a full team and a full schedule of matches was definitely not helping me.”
For Vogel, the experience has had multiple benefits.
On the mat, he has improved each year and was the Western Class A runner-up as a junior at 145 pounds. He kicked off his senior season with an impressive win at 160 pounds against last year’s 152-pound Class B champion, Zach Faskianos of York.
“My freshman year I wasn’t that good,” Vogel said. “I knew if I wanted to be accepted into this team I had to do the work and show I was in it for the long haul.”
His plan worked so well that prior to his junior season, the one-man team from Greely became a Windham co-captain.
“It meant a lot. I came in, this kid from Greely that nobody knew, and they got to know me and now I am a captain,” Vogel said.
Staff Writer Steve Craig can be contacted at 791-6413 or at: