Wrestling: At Westlake Tournament, teams get introduced to competing in masks

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Wrestling: At Westlake Tournament, teams get introduced to competing in masks,

Winslow’s Stella Nutting, left, gets thrown by Gardiner’s Evan Ahearn during a 126 pound match during the Westlake Tournament on Saturday in Bath. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

BATH — Jack Dorval stood smiling minutes after winning a match at the Westlake Tournament Saturday morning, his second victory of the day — giving the senior Winslow wrestler two more victories than he had a chance to compile last season.

“It’s awesome,” the 170-pounder said. “I’m so glad we could get everyone together in this gym, and have some normality.”

As for the mask around his face, which he was wearing while competing in those matches?

“It’s definitely very different, something a lot of us aren’t used to,” he said. “It’s not as bad as I anticipated. I thought it would be pretty bad. But we had a couple of weeks to get accustomed to it. It’s another challenge, but we welcome it.”

Wrestling’s new look kicked off for many teams Saturday, as the Morse-hosted Westlake Tournament brought 14 teams to Bath Middle School for the early-season meet. For teams including Cony, Gardiner/Hall-Dale, Mt. Ararat/Brunswick, Lisbon/Oak Hill, Maine Central Institute, Mt. Blue, Nokomis, Skowhegan and Winslow, it was their first experience competing this season in masks, which the MPA “strongly recommended” in a bulletin posted at the start of the season.

The verdict? For many players and coaches, it wasn’t as bad as they thought it would be.

“It’s just wrestling. There’s not much difference between no masks and masks,” said Cony 220-pounder Jon Lettre, who earned a win over No. 1 seed Cam Atwood of Skowhegan in his second match of the day. “It’s a little harder to breathe, but you get used to it at practice. … The more you condition, the easier it is with the mask.”

“We’ve been practicing with them for two weeks. It’s not easy, but I think they’re getting acclimated to having them on,” Cony coach Shawn Totman said. “They’re going to get more used to them as the season goes on. … I think within a few weeks, the masks thing is going to be a non-issue. It’s not going to be ideal. But it’s going to be a non-issue.”

Time has helped. Two weeks ago, the mask was a bigger obstacle.

“It definitely does affect how you breathe once you get tired during the match, but it’s not too bad if you practice with it,” said Mt. Ararat/Brunswick’s Shea Farrell, the top seed at 160 pounds. “The first couple of practices you felt nauseous and stuff, just because there’s not enough oxygen. But now we’re pretty used to it.”

Despite the constant head touching that goes on in wrestling, the masks had no effect on the flow of the matches. The headgear the wrestlers wear keeps the mask loops in place around the ears, and few, if any, matches saw masks falling off completely.

Wrestlers were asked to start with the masks covering their mouth and nose, and while the masks were inevitably pulled down during the course of competition, the matches continued until a break in the action gave them a chance to reset.

Winslow’s Jacob Garcia, left, and Cony’s Jon Lettre wrestle in a 220 pound match during the Westlake Tournament on Saturday in Bath. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“You can see, even the referees, no one’s freaking out if it comes down,” Totman said. “If the mask comes down for a second, no one’s freaking out. You get it back up at the earliest time that you can get the mask back up. … You’ve seen some kids that are getting pinned, their masks may come down below their nose, they’re not going to stop it for that.”

“I expected (officials) to be pretty lenient,” Farrell said. “They’re going to come down all the time. If you stop it every single time, there’s really no point in having them on. With the headgear, if you’re able to pull it up during the match a little bit, that’s pretty good.”

Wrestlers said they’re not yet at the point where they don’t notice the masks at all. MCI 120-pounder Keith Cook said masks made getting through the match a little more difficult.

“In the beginning of the match, it’s not really,” he said. “But when it goes to the second round, it’s a lot harder to breathe. It makes it a lot more challenging. It makes you learn how to control your breath so you’re not gasping out in the first match.”

Cook said the mask can become a nuisance for other reasons.

“(One) match, it got over my eyes where I couldn’t see, and the ref called something that I didn’t know I was doing,” he said. “It makes it harder, but if it doesn’t go over your eyes, you’re normally pretty good.”

Cook said he expects wrestling with masks to get better as the season progresses.

“It’ll probably be a lot easier,” he said. “People are going to be able to wrestle a lot more with them on, and kind of see what they’re about.”

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