When the season ended for Michael Hopkins last year in the 145-pound consolation round of the All-State Tournament, the Marblehead/Swampscott wrestler sat in the field house at Methuen High School, already thinking about how to prepare for the 2020-21 season.
That loss was on Feb. 28, 2020, when discussions about a global pandemic were few and far between. Then came a long, long wait.
“I got back in the gym as soon as I could,” said the now 160-pound Hopkins, who returned to the mat at MetroWest United in Natick last July.
Hopkins’s fiery competitiveness, along with the talent of senior 170-pounder Nick Sirota have put Swampscott/Marblehead in the driver’s seat in the Northeastern Conference with one week remaining in the regular season.
Although the NEC combined with the Cape Ann League for this pandemic-abbreviated wrestling season, and Marblehead/Swampscott took its first loss of the season Wednesday — 59-18 to CAL Triton — M/S is still undefeated among NEC opponents. The Black & Blue are looking ahead to the first round of next week’s Division 3 North dual meet tournament.
Having Hopkins and Sirota back-to-back in the lineup makes M/S a contender in a crowded field that will likely feature Triton and Middlesex League stalwarts Melrose and Wakefield. The duo wants postseason glory badly. The two Swampscott residents placed third at 145 and 152, respectively, in last season’s state tournament, and dreams of an individual state championship were dashed by the pandemic.
“It’s like someone stole this away from him and called his mother a dirty word at the same time,” said Black & Blue assistant coach Mike Stamison of Hopkins.
That attitude rubbed off on Sirota, Hopkins’s drilling partner in practice. Both wrestlers are undefeated this year, have combined for more than 200 career victories (Hopkins is at 114 and Sirota estimates he has about 90), and Sirota has yet to allow an opponent to score on him this season.
“The fiery attitude comes from losing and feeling like there’s someone out there better than you and the feeling that you need to get better,” said Sirota, who also trains with MetroWest United and will wrestle at WPI next year.
“I’m quite proud of the fact that I haven’t allowed anyone to score on me this year. It’s not something I really brag about, but it’s more to motivate my teammates to get them to be like me.”
Sirota also trains privately in Framingham with Harvard assistant coach Muzaffar Abdurakhmanov.
But in years past, the Marblehead/Swampscott duo was not dynamic, and neither was the program.
The two joined the team when they were in eighth grade after years of youth wrestling experience. Sirota won three consecutive Massachusetts state youth wrestling championships from 2014-16, and a youth New England title in 2014, but when he and Hopkins entered the high school ranks, they joined a team that was nowhere near as talented as it is now.
Swampscott/Marblehead was at the bottom of the NEC, losing to Beverly, Danvers, and Masconomet. Then, as Hopkins and Sirota improved, so did their team. Last year, Marblehead/Swampscott placed sixth at the Division 3 state tournament — its highest finish in program history — and qualified six wrestlers for All-States. Then on May 28, with Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker — a Swampscott resident — in attendance, the Black & Blue defeated Beverly (42-33) for the first time in program history. The victory was cathartic.
“Over the last few years, we used to be the team getting beaten on, and now we’re the team doing the beating,” Hopkins said.
“I feel an incredible amount of pride in our team,” Sirota added. “It was me and Mike, and our other senior captain, Connor O’Brien, that started everything.”
The Black & Blue wrapped up their regular season Friday, splitting a tri-meet with Essex Tech/Masconomet and Shawsheen, and are now hoping to show off those years of continuous improvement by bruising opponents in the postseason, one meet at a time. Sirota believes that if they follow their captains’ lead of striving to get better every day, the success will follow.
“As long as they want to improve, we can do well at the postseason tournament,” Sirota said.
Added Hopkins: “What you do, what your habits are, that’s what you become.”
▪ There’s a new wrestling team in Boston. This season was the first year of varsity competition for Latin Academy, becoming the third program in the city, and joining Josiah Quincy Upper School as the second Boston City League team to field a program. Latin Academy fielded a team of 12 wrestlers coached by Jose Valenzuela, a Boston Latin alum who wrestled for the Wolfpack from 1997-2003. The Dragons picked up their first win last Saturday, a 41-18 victory over Monty Tech. Valenzuela is also a teacher at Latin Academy. Before coaching the Dragons, he started a nonprofit in 2012 called Boston Youth Wrestling with a goal of creating awareness about wrestling for Boston students. It’s now known as Beat the Streets Wrestling. Latin Academy hosted its first meet Friday against Cambridge.
“My aspirations are — at the school level — I really want to establish this program and help develop kids who aren’t familiar with the sport,” Valenzuela said.
▪ Central Catholic sophomore Jackie Dehney captured a gold medal Friday at the Pan-American Cadet Championships in Oaxtepec, Mexico. Competing in the 53-kg women’s freestyle division, she defeated Mexico’s Jelissa Hernandez Gomez, 6-4, in her qualifying match of the round-robin competition. Then she pinned Ashly Eboy Escobar of Guatemala in 37 seconds for gold. Dehney spent the previous week practicing at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
▪ Chelmsford’s Evan Kinney, a 2021 NHSCA Senior Nationals runner-up at 113 pounds and three-time Division 1 state champion, has committed to Division 3 Castleton University.