December 6, 2012

Small College Notebook: Making the most on the mat

Coach Joe Pistone has built a successful wrestling program at Southern Maine.

By Steve Solloway ssolloway@pressherald.com
Columnist

GORHAM - Peter Gilman thought his wrestling career was over. He was a two-time Maine high school champion at Massabesic, a New England tournament runner-up and didn't see any way he could continue the sport he most loved.

Then Joe Pistone made his pitch. Come to the University of Southern Maine, said its head wrestling coach. Compete, get your degree.

Jonathan Deupree was lost. He was 23, a native of the Clearwater, Fla., area who went to a small college in Kentucky after high school. He didn't always make the right choices. His father had lived in Maine briefly and suggested he head to Portland for a fresh start.

You mean, Oregon, dad?

A successful high school wrestler, Deupree enrolled at USM this summer. Academically he's a junior. In the eyes of the NCAA he has three seasons of wrestling remaining.

Rick Chipman is 43. A firefighter and EMT and a new father, he decided to go to college two years ago. Twenty-five years earlier he had wrestled at Mt. Ararat High School. He's beginning his third season of competition for Pistone, wrestling either at 165 or 174 pounds.

"I'm going to finish what I started," said Chipman, who doesn't ask for favors in practice. "My college record is 22-22. I want to end with a winning record."

They are just three faces among 23 on the 2012-13 roster. Their stories are probably no more or less unique than the stories of the others. What's remarkable is the strength of this program.

"We just had the Ted Reese Invitational," said Gilman, a senior wrestling at 149 pounds. "Each year I see more and more people coming to watch. I didn't really pay attention to this team when I was in high school. I don't know why."

Reese built the successful wrestling program at Bonny Eagle High School. He started USM's program in the late 1990s. Pistone, a native of the lower Hudson River Valley in New York, took over 10 years ago. Slowly, he has built on Reese's foundation at one of Maine's more blue-collar campuses with its sizable enrollment of part-time students.

Initially, Pistone recruited heavily from his home area where wrestling can be more popular than basketball. That didn't earn him a lot of support from Maine high school coaches. His staying power and the toughness of his program have warmed his relationships.

Along with the perseverance of Maine wrestlers like Gilman. "I've fallen in love with being here. At first, if I thought about USM wrestling, it was small guys, small team, nobody talked about them. That's not true."

Last season, USM won the most dual meets (15-7 record) in its history and was more competitive in tournaments. But at the New England tournament, no one could win. For the first time in years, USM did not send one wrestler to the NCAA tournament.

"Our goal this year is stay healthy, stay together," said Chipman, who is a full-time student juggling classwork with his job and his family and his wrestling. "We lose so many people to grades in second semester."

USM placed second among nine teams in Saturday's Ted Reese Invitational, two behind New York University. Deupree, at 184 pounds, was one of USM's first-place finishers. He's already 9-1 record with four pins.

"Wrestling was big at my high school. It's big everywhere in high schools but there's no college wrestling in Florida. That's why I ended up in Kentucky (at the University of the Cumberlands). I love the sport. I love the challenge."

BOWDOIN COLLEGE

The men's hockey team is unbeaten (7-0-1) for its best start since the 2002-03 season when it opened 7-0-0. Bowdoin plays at Tufts Friday night . . . Danielle McAvoy (Sudbury, Mass.) was named the New England Small College Rugby Conference Player of the Year. Marybeth Mathews was named the conference's Coach of the Year after Bowdoin's 10-0 season and first conference championship.

ST. JOSEPH'S COLLEGE

Morgan Cahill (Yarmouth) averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds in two games last week, getting her recognized as the Great Northeast Atlantic Conference and Maine Women's Basketball Coaches Association's Rookie of the Week for the second time. After five games, Cahill ranks second in the conference in field-goal percentage (59 percent), fourth in rebounding (10.0 rpg) and 14th in scoring (13.4 ppg) . . . The indoor track and field teams compete for the first time as varsity programs Saturday in a meet at Bowdoin College.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

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