In the last two editions, we started the series on the most dominating WHS winter sports teams from previous seasons. The series started with the 2001-2002 Boys Basketball team and last week we ran the 2006-’07 Girls Hockey team which advanced to the Division 2 state semi-final game.
Below is another installment with a look back at the two best seasons of WHS Wrestling history, 2000-01 and then 2004-05.
The story below comes from many previous stories all written by Jamie Pote during those two seasons.
WILMINGTON — It's hard to believe that it's the 20th anniversary of arguably the greatest Wilmington High School wrestling team ever assembled.
The 2000-'01 Wildcats finished the regular season with a 12-7-1 overall record, the best record at that point in program history. The team went on to crown four champions at the Cape Ann League Championship Meet taking second as a team, and the week after, the 'Cats had a program best second place finish at Division 3 North Sectionals crowning two champions before moving on with one champ as Wilmington finished sixth at the D3 state meet, before one wrestler closed out his season by participating in the All-States and New England Meets.
Certainly there's other times that posted 16 and 17 win seasons and had multiple state champions, but this 00-01 season stood out for many reasons, among them a deep, talented pool of incredibly hard working grapplers with some of them pretty funny during their interviews, and a coach, Mike Pimental, who was named both the Cape Ann League and the Division 3 North Coach of the Year.
After finishing with a league record of 7-1 — only blemish to league and state power North Andover, the 'Cats went to the CAL Championship meet and gave the Scarlet Knights a run for their money. North Andover finished with 198 points, compared to Wilmington's 182. The Wildcats had a stellar performance with four champions, including seniors Marc Sollazzo and Peter Reitchel, and two sophomores Roman Walsh and Derek Hanley.
Besides those four, five others wrestlers advanced to the final match and were defeated. Those five included Justin Strem, Mike Murphy, Chris Minghella, Sang Ngo and John McMahon. Also Joe Cotto and Jason Cranford finished third.
There were many outstanding performances and moments from that day, but several really stood out including Reitchel and McMahon. Reitchel was ecstatic when he won, and he said that going to a summer wrestling camp was the biggest reason why he celebrated.
“When we were getting up at 5 am and running miles, I was like 'why am I doing this? Why are we getting up this early? I haven't even had my breakfast yet'. But all of that was such a good experience for me.”
McMahon finished second and the fact that he got to the finals was a near miracle in itself as he was sick throughout the entire week leading up to the match.
“I talked to John on the phone when he missed school,” said Pimental. “And he told me not to worry. He said 'Coach, you know I'll be wrestling for you if they have to wheel me out on the mat'. John looked like death warned over him, but he did not quit. He sucked it up and did as well as he could.”
With 11 wrestlers finishing in the top three of their individual weight class, you would think the entire group would have wanted to leave the gymnasium and start celebrating as quickly as they could. Not these guys.
“My kids are animals on the mat but when they come off the mat, it's incredible,” said Pimental. “Most of the kids are honor roll students. Saturday was exciting. One minute the kids are heartbroken because they didn't win the league championship. In the same minute, they are helping the Georgetown kids roll up the mats and carry them to wherever they needed to be. I didn't tell them to do that.”
The following week the incredible success continued when the team finished second at the sectionals which included ten different kids placing to advance to the state meet.
“Last year (1999-2000 season) we finished fifth as a team (at the sectionals). This year we outlined a lot of team goals. One of them was to finish third at the sectionals. Once the season started, I changed that to second place because I believed that the kids could do it. We prepare the kids to be ready, condition wise and technique wise. After that, it's all up to them.
“Before the sectional meet started, we got together and I told the kids that if they believes in themselves and each other, they could be champions. We didn't win it, but these kids are champions for what they accomplished.”
In that meet, Sollazzo (152) and Hanley (135) were crowned sectional champions. They followed five previous wrestlers who had done it with Mike Russo (1980), Brian Belmore (1981), Brian Murray (89 and 90) and Billy Tate (94 and 96) as two-time champs and then Kenny MacDonald (94).
Besides the two champions including Hanley winning in double-overtime, Roman Walsh lost in the finals to take second, Ngo and Reitchel finished third, Murphy was fourth, McMahon, Strem and John DiPasquale were fifth.
At the D3 state meet held at Wayland High, Wilmington finished sixth as a team. Sollazzo was crowned a state champion, beating Matt Newton of Wayland to improve to 37-3 at the time with 27 pins. Hanley finished third, which was the highest place finisher of any sophomore in program history and Minghella was fifth.
“It's the best finish we've ever had,” said Pimental after that meet concluded. “This season has really been something. To have ten guys here and four of them place, that's something the team should really be proud of.”
Sollazzo advanced to the all-states taking fourth, before going to the New Englands and losing in his first and only match.
While the 2000-01 team finished second at the D3 North Sectionals, the 2004-'05 team came away with the program's first and only D3 North Sectional Championship title.
“We talked as coaches at the beginning of the season that we had a chance to do something very good this season,” said Pimental to the Crier after that exciting day. “It ended up that way here with the sectional championship. No matter what, we just hoped that the team would peak at the right time. It was great to see all of the kids put it all together this past weekend.”
Wilmington finished that regular season with a 6-2 league record and a 12-8 overall record. It was the fifth straight season with a winning record. The 'Cats then started the post-season off in style at the Cape Ann League Championship Meet taking second place as a team. Both Mike St. Aubin and Jon Kelley were crowned individual champions, while, Nathan Clapp, Tim Sughrue and Anthony Almeida were finalists, and Greg Boland and Chris Olson both finished in third place.
That set the stage for the sectional meet. In exciting fashion, St. Aubin became the only champion, beating previously undefeated Matt Pearson (25-0) of Quabbin Regional, 6-5. Sughrue, Almeida, Evan Walsh and Kelly all advanced to the finals, but were defeated.
In addition, Mike Sorrentino placed third, Olson was fourth. Boland was fifth and Clapp was sixth.
At the D3 states, St. Aubin finished third and Walsh was fifth. The week after, St. Aubin closed out his tremendous season by taking fifth in the entire state in the 135-pound weight class.