Grappling with success: 17 teams compete at first-ever Lebanon tournament

Lebanon High's Abigail Stone and Manchester West's Samuel Cruz grimace while wrestling at 120 pounds on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. Stone won by pin, avenging a loss to Cruz earlier in the day at a 17-team tournament hosted by the Raiders. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Abigail Stone and Manchester West's Samuel Cruz grimace while wrestling at 120 pounds on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. Stone won by pin, avenging a loss to Cruz earlier in the day at a 17-team tournament hosted by the Raiders. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Tris Wykes

Lebanon High wrestling coach Chauncey Wood hugs 120-pound competitor Abigail Stone after she pinned Manchester West's Samuel Cruz. Stone avenged an earlier loss to Cruz during a 17-team tournament on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High wrestling coach Chauncey Wood hugs 120-pound competitor Abigail Stone after she pinned Manchester West's Samuel Cruz. Stone avenged an earlier loss to Cruz during a 17-team tournament on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Tris Wykes

Will Strohbridge, a fifth-grade Lebanon Middle School student and wrestler, counts down the final seconds of a wrestling period while wielding a padded stick with which he will poke referee Eric Campbell to alert him that time has expired.

Will Strohbridge, a fifth-grade Lebanon Middle School student and wrestler, counts down the final seconds of a wrestling period while wielding a padded stick with which he will poke referee Eric Campbell to alert him that time has expired. "He's going to be a good one," Lebanon coach Chauncey Wood said of Strohbridge. "He goes 110 miles per hour all the time." Lebanon finished fifth out of 17 teams during a Dec. 30, 2023, tournament it hosted in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Lebanon High's Jon Eylander screams after winning the 215-pound title during a 17-team wrestling tournament hosted by his Raiders on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. The senior pinned Cole Giberson of Kearsarge. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Jon Eylander screams after winning the 215-pound title during a 17-team wrestling tournament hosted by his Raiders on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. The senior pinned Cole Giberson of Kearsarge. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Mascoma High's Lincoln Butterfield throws Max Demaine, a Lake Region student competing for St. Johnsbury, during their 175-pound wrestling bout on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. Demaine later pinned Butterfield to win the match at a 17-team tournament hosted by Lebanon High. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Mascoma High's Lincoln Butterfield throws Max Demaine, a Lake Region student competing for St. Johnsbury, during their 175-pound wrestling bout on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. Demaine later pinned Butterfield to win the match at a 17-team tournament hosted by Lebanon High. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. —Tris Wykes

Newport High's Blake Ploss lifts Karter Morey, a Lyndon Institute student competing for St. Johnsbury Academy, during their 132-pound title match on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. Morey won, 7-1, during a 17-team tournament hosted by Lebanon High. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Newport High's Blake Ploss lifts Karter Morey, a Lyndon Institute student competing for St. Johnsbury Academy, during their 132-pound title match on Dec. 30, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. Morey won, 7-1, during a 17-team tournament hosted by Lebanon High. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-02-2024 12:26 PM

Modified: 01-08-2024 10:58 AM


LEBANON —  All appeared lost for Lebanon High wrestler Abigail Stone on Saturday. 

The 120-pound grappler was taking a beating from Manchester West’s Samuel Cruz, the latter laying on crushing holds that caused Stone to grimace as if caught in an alligator’s jaws. Her coaches and teammates tried to raise their voices above others in Lang Metcalf Gymnasium, but with 17 teams and their wrestlers at the day’s tournament, it all became a roar of garbled noise.

“I was losing and I just really don’t like to lose,” said Stone, who had fallen to Cruz earlier in the day. “I’ve gotta win. I’m a senior and this is the end of my wrestling career.”

From depths unknown, Stone summoned the strength to not only escape Cruz but pin him. She let out a scream of pure, exhausted joy and was enveloped in sweaty hugs from those in Raiders maroon.

Crushed into the mat, Stone had sensed that Cruz didn’t have quite as tight a hold of her as it appeared. He was using a move called a cradle, and Stone had lost in that manner throughout her sophomore season. Wriggling free, she flipped the startled Blue Hawk and went from apparent loser to victor in a matter of seconds.

Stone’s match was but one of dozens, including successful weight-class title bouts for Lebanon’s Will Healey (106) and Jon Eylander (215). Mascoma’s Hunter Dworak (126) and Ethan Lewis (190) also stood atop the championship podium. 

“It takes a lot of hands to make this work,” said sixth-year Lebanon coach Chauncey Wood, who began planning for his school’s first-ever tournament more than a year ago. “It puts us on the map and shows what we’re doing up here is working. We’re not just building a team but a wrestling community.”

There was a come-full-circle feel to the event, because Wood credits one of its referees, Caiden Skakalski, as the impetus for Lebanon’s entire program. 

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Police seek assistance in locating missing Dartmouth student
City cites Claremont property owner over demolition of building
Editorial: Dartmouth lets protesters know where they stand
DHMC union organizers say they have enough signatures to force vote
New Canaan Elementary School principal hire backs out
A Life: Elaine Chase ‘was a very generous person’

Wood, who had previously coached middle school wrestling in Newport, was working as a Lebanon paraeducator and the JV baseball coach in 2017. Skakalski, who had moved up from Georgia and knew how big the sport was in many other parts of the U.S., asked if he’d consider introducing it here. So was born a club team with four participants. 

Lebanon is now in its third varsity season, features more than 20 wrestlers and finished fourth, one place ahead of Mascoma, on Saturday. The Royals started their program not long before the Raiders and the tournament was a celebration for both programs, which have joined an established group at Newport and occasional singles from Stevens and Hartford in the Upper Valley during the past decade.

“I wouldn’t want to organize something like this,” said a chuckling Steve Stebbins, Mascoma’s athletic director and a volunteer wrestling coach for the Royals. “They’ve done a great job and it’s nice to have a local tournament, because we usually have to travel down south.”

NHIAA Division III, which includes the Upper Valley’s Granite State teams, has grown of late, adding legitimacy to its postseason tournament. Wrestling is on the rise here and Lewis, who also plays football for Mascoma, was rabidly supported by his teammates and a couple dozen fans.

“Aggression is a tool that can be misused,” said Lewis, whose polite manner off the mat belies a mean streak upon it. “It’s not personal; it’s part of the sport.”

Exhausted and sweating wrestlers, their singlets rolled to the waists, staggered past Lewis as he spoke. A musky humidity filled the gym and organizers propped open doors to the parking lot and positioned large fans in front of them.

“Hold that leg! Pop the head! Elbows in!” screamed a nearby coach. His wrestler lost, and the adult slumped off his folding chair and onto his knees, spitting out an expletive.

Ian Smith, Lebanon High’s principal, watched from the fringes as volunteers rapidly typed results into an array of laptop computers, certified athletic trainers stuffed cotton plugs into bleeding nostrils and a concessions special of two-for-one breakfast sandwiches was announced.

“This is a great scene,” Smith said. “Wrestling’s very inclusive. It’s a very intense team sport with individual components. It’s yet another option for our kids, although I sometimes worry about spreading ourselves too thin at a school of 600 kids.”

Wood fielded congratulatory handshakes from opposing coaches as the eight-hour tournament wound down. The Raiders graduated five seniors after last season and suffered some attrition, but recruited 15 newcomers to the sport this winter. Lebanon also features a middle school team for the first time.

“I’m very proud of all the work that was put into this,” Wood said. “It’s created something that I hope will stick around for a long time.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled referee Caiden Skakalski’s name. In addition, the final standings cited mistakenly switched Lebanon High’s fourth-place and Mascoma High’s fifth-place finish.