It was one of the most difficult and best seasons in Matt Rix’s 34 years as the wrestling coach at Marshwood High.

Before the season started, Rix suffered a heart attack.

His recovery was quick, but it confirmed what Rix had already decided: 2017-18 would be his final season as the Hawks’ coach, something he kept private outside a small circle of confidants.

Then his proud team – the defending Class A state champion and winner of five of the previous six state titles – began to suffer uncharacteristic departures. An expected contender for an individual state championship decided not to wrestle. Others quit, a few were asked to leave, some were injured.

A 22-man roster had dwindled to nine active wrestlers for the Class A South regionals.

Marshwood was beaten in its own South Berwick gym that day, finishing 50 points behind archrival Noble. But there was a glimmer of hope. Seven Marshwood wrestlers finished first or second to advance to the state championships.

The next Saturday, at Sanford, all seven Marshwood wrestlers won their first match by pin.

“I looked around the stands at the other coaches and I could tell they knew, we were going to kill it that day,” Rix said.

Sure enough, the seven-man team produced two individual champions (Liam Coomey and David Spinney), all seven wrestlers placed and Marshwood had its sixth title in seven years and the 10th overall for Rix.

“Every one of them was a big part of it,” Rix said.

On June 26, Rix was named the Varsity Maine Coach of the Year for boys’ teams at the third annual awards show.

“This is a special year, absolutely,” Rix said that night. “Just the whole ups and downs of the season. Just keeping the motivation in that room was the biggest thing.”

Ironically, Marshwood had moved into a larger wrestling room at the school prior to the 2017-18 season.

The bigger space made the smaller team even more pronounced.

“It was so big, and the emptier the room got, I thought, ‘this is not going to go well,'” Rix said.

“Every day, we just made sure we left on a good note and everybody felt good about it. It was all about keeping the motivation up in the room.”

Making the connection with his wrestlers has always been key to Rix’s success.

A 1981 Marshwood grad, he always emphasized being at the school ready to start practice right when the school day ended.

“Down time,” as Rix called it, was an enemy to be avoided. If that meant Rix – who works as an electrician – had to work night shifts, then that’s what he did for the first 25 years he coached.

Marshwood first climbed the ranks in Class B, going up against powerhouse Camden-Rockport and local rival Wells to win four championships from 1989-99.

Then came a move to Class A, where Noble was the team in control until Marshwood’s recent run.

Under Rix, more than 50 wrestlers won 88 individual state titles.

“Regardless of the state championships and the individual state champions, his greatest accomplishment is reaching them on a personal level, and that will never be replaced,” said Marshwood Athletic Director Rich Buzzell.

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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Twitter: SteveCCraig