SOUTH BERWICK — Marshwood’s run in wrestling over the past three decades is unprecedented – 10 state titles, including six Class A championships in the past seven years.

The man responsible is Matt Rix, who was at the helm for the past 34 years. He stepped down on a high note at the end of last season, following the Hawks’ 11-point victory over Noble in the Class A state championship meet.

But anyone who thinks – or hopes – a slip in excellence is near will be sorely mistaken.

Pat Howard moved through Marshwood’s feeder program, starting in the fifth grade, through junior high and then as a wrestler on Rix’s varsity in the early 2000s. He has served as an assistant coach for the past decade. And now as the head coach, he expects to keep the ball rolling.

Hiring a former Hawks wrestler is standard practice for the Marshwood juggernaut, be it at the pee wee, middle school or varsity level. Consistency and familiarity with the coaching style is one of the biggest reasons for the success. The hiring of past wrestlers, and allowing those who have been in the program help at any level, provides just that.

“The way I have always looked at it is it’s such a successful program for so many years, there’s no reason to change,” said Howard. “As the old adage goes, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

“We’ve always had good alumni want to come back to help when their kids enter the program. We all teach the same fundamentals that Coach Rix taught.”

Keeping with tradition, Howard brought on former standouts Luke Howarth and Tom Howarth as assistant coaches.

Athletic Director Rich Buzzell said the transition from Rix to Howard should be seamless.

“We were really glad that Pat chose to coach in the head position for us this year,” he said. “Being a homegrown product in our wrestling program is extremely special.

“Matt Rix was a tireless worker and advocate for that program, and Pat grew up in that. He understands commitment, hard work and dedication. And those are three really important characteristics that we value here at Marshwood in our athletic program.”

Howard is coaching the same way Rix did – teaching wrestlers the basics, then working with them to accentuate their strengths. The philosophy can go against some programs that like to install certain moves that are known to be a go-to for that school.

“Wrestling, as much as it is a team sport, it has a lot of individuality to it,” said Howard, a three-time state champ who finished with a 150-22 record before starring at Norwich University. “Our main focus has always been to teach the basics so it is second nature to every kid. When we work with each individual kid on their individual styles we notice over the (season) that it becomes their strong point.”

Having a solid returning core will be something else that’s common at Marshwood.

Despite another year with small numbers – only 11 wrestlers for 14 weight classes – the Hawks have state champions Liam Coomey (126 pounds) and David Spinney (138) leading the return of five state placers. Dylan Strong (170) came in second, and Sean Moriarty (113) and Carsen Goodwin (120) captured the consolation bracket for third-place finishes.

Joe Wessling, Zach Mercier and Aaron Penny also return with varsity experience, and freshman Aydin Rix-McElhinney has risen through the program and has the potential to be another star at 132 pounds.

Rich DeRosier, coach of Massabesic – a rival in Class A – knows a thing or two about both Marshwood and Howard. He doesn’t anticipate many hiccups with the handing off of the baton.

“I think Pat’s up to the task. I think he’ll do a good job,” said DeRosier.

“I consider (Marshwood) as a blue-collar team, and they go out and know what they need to do to get done. They’ve been doing it for years.”

In the end Howard wants to make sure he stays true to the program, and Rix.

“I’ve loved and respected Coach Rix my entire career,” he said. “He got me into wrestling in the fifth grade, and he called me after college and asked me to coach (here). I’m going to try to follow in his footsteps and try to keep the program going the best we can.”

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