SOUTH BERWICK — The lobsters had been cracked and consumed. The ocean sites reached and recorded. New friendships made and a few old ones rekindled.
Tuesday was the last night of the 30th Maine-Nebraska Friendship Series among high school wrestlers from both states and the all-star group of Mainers assembled at Marshwood High School had one goal – win for the first time at home.
“Any time you step on the mat it’s about winning,” said Colin Sevigney, a recent graduate of Wells High. “Especially in our home state it would be kind of nice to show we’re pretty tough, too.”
It turned out the Mainers pulled it off in dominating fashion, winning the first 12 matches en route to a 53-6 outcome.
“It feels good to be part of something like that,” said Marshwood three-time state champion Cody Hughes.
The Maine team, organized by Marshwood Coach Matt Rix, featured 12 state champions from eight schools.
Rix said Maine has won a couple of dual meets in Nebraska but never in Maine.
Nebraska’s success is understandable. The state has roughly four times as many high school wrestling programs as Maine. Nebraska Coach Tracy Dodson said the state championships routinely draw over 10,000 people to Omaha. Plus, at the college level, the state fields one Division I (University of Nebraska), two Division II and multiple small-college wrestling programs.
Dodson, who coaches at Columbus Scotus High, said he had been hearing during his team’s trip that the last of the four matches would be the toughest.
He and assistant coach Derek Garfield also said they had purposely selected a relatively young team, thinking the trip would be good motivation.
“We don’t have a state champion on this team but I’m sure we have kids on this team that will be state champions,” Garfield said.
Nebraska had won its other dual meets in Skowhegan (37-27), Dover-Foxcroft (62-6) and Ellsworth (64-18) in an eight-day stay.
Dodson’s son, Marcus, was among Nebraska’s most experienced wrestlers, finishing as the state runner-up at 152 pounds.
He had a tough 6-0 loss against Hughes. Both were among the dozen or so sleepover guests at Marshwood wrestler Jackson Howarth’s house Monday.
“We were here tonight just to have fun and all feeling kind of ready to go home,” Marcus Dodson said. “The guys from Maine, you could tell, they came to play.”
Marcus Dodson said he’ll remember kayaking on three ponds more than a tough match.
“Well, they said they were ponds but they were massive bodies of water compared to our lakes,” he said.
In addition to camping, days on a lake, two lobster bakes and Tuesday afternoon’s trip to the beach, the Nebraska side also toured the state house and had a photo-op session with the governor.
“It’s the relationships that we’ve made that we’re really interested in,” Tracy Dodson said.
Wally LaFountain, a longtime coach at Winslow, had just that in mind when he and a peer in Nebraska came up with the idea of the series as an alternative to more expensive international exchanges.
“The wrestling on the mats is just the excuse because it really is a cultural exchange,” said LaFountain.
Nebraska heavyweight Andrew Stowe, who claimed a rare Cornhusker win Tuesday with an explosive 11-0 decision against Massabesic’s Jordan Drain, agreed.
Sure, trying clams (tastes good, bad texture) and lobster (claws over tail) were great but that wasn’t what really impressed him.
“The trip was great and all the scenery was pretty interesting but ultimately what made it smooth and enjoyable were all the host families being so generous,” Stowe said.
The exchange had happened annually until 2013 when it was canceled. LaFountain, who has stayed actively involved with the program, said it was revitalized when Bob Craig of Skowhegan, the father of state champions Tyler and Cody Craig, took over as the Maine director. LaFountain also credited coaches like Rix and Skowhegan’s Brooks Thompson for helping to make sure this year’s Nebraska team would be greeted by willing and able wrestlers.
Winning matches for Maine on Tuesday: Kidayer Aljubyly of Portland, Austin Shorey and Otto Keisker of Noble, Caleb Austin of Mountain Valley, Tyler Everett of Massabesic, Colin Sevigney and Michael Curtis of Wells, Julian Sirois of Skowhegan, Dominic Day of Biddeford and the Marshwood foursome of Hughes, Howarth (two wins), Bradley Beaulieu and Brett Gerry.