Twins Charlie and Cooper Lussier were not vocal leaders when they initially joined the wrestling room at Whitman-Hanson. But the example the two freshmen have set on the mat jumpstarted a run of success for the program that has not been seen in years.
The Panthers (9-6) picked up their first tournament win in 12 years at the 2022 Weymouth Tournament, with both Cooper and Charlie taking home individual titles at 152 and 106 pounds, respectively.
After an up and down Patriot League season, the Panthers faced Hingham on Thursday with a chance to capture a share of their first league title since the 2010-11 season. Whitman-Hanson fell short, but both twins continued their elite runs with first-period pins. Charlie is 26-0 and Cooper is 25-2.
“We have really good team chemistry,” Charlie Lussier said. “So we always want to see each other succeed. And the only way to do that is to push each other for the better of ourselves.”
The leadership of senior captains Pat Collett —who pushes Cooper at practice each day — and Rocco Ruffini has been critical for the Panthers and the development of the twins throughout the year.
Whitman-Hanson coach Gary Rabinovitz , at the helm since 2014, has been familiar with the Lusssier twins since they were competing in the local youth wrestling scene.
He knew their potential, and even attempted to get a waiver to have the duo on the mat as eighth graders.
“I knew they would make an impact pretty much immediately,” Rabinovitz said. “Did I know it would be [26-0 and 25-2] at this point? That’s probably a different story.”
The Lussiers are two of the nine freshmen on the W-H squad. They started wrestling in elementary school, so they were prepared for the jump to the varsity level.
“‘I’ve probably been wrestling a lot longer than a lot of these kids because I started when I was really little,” Cooper said. “They do have a lot more strength than me, but experience always beats strength.”
At the start of the season, the twins were on the shy side, according to Rabinovitz, collecting their victories and supporting the team quietly. But during a cheerful bus ride home following the championship run at Weymouth, Cooper asked Rabinovitz if he could address the team.
The freshman, who had just secured the 152-pound individual title, emphasized the importance of staying hungry for the rest of the season because the Patriot League gauntlet was on the horizon.
“A lot of people were just really happy we won but I wanted to make sure we kept winning after that,” Cooper said. “I didn’t want to be satisfied with just winning that one tournament.”
The Panthers have responded well to that message.
Rabinovitz wrestled (at 121 pounds) for the inaugural Whitman-Hanson varsity wrestling team in 1978. And he was a member of the coaching staff during the 1988-99 season. During his six years as a head coach, no wrestler has reached the New England Tournament level. He thinks that could change this year when the team takes the mat in the coming weeks.
Charlie Lussier said the Panthers are focused on a state championship run; he also recognizes he would not be in this position as a title contender if it weren’t for his brother.
“We wouldn’t be half as good if we didn’t have each other,” Charlie said.
Girls take the mat
When Phillips Andover debuted its girls’ wrestling tournament in 2014, nine wrestlers participated from four schools.
Heading into the 2022 edition, 10 times that number were registered to compete, representing 32 schools. While last weekend’s snowstorm dampened numbers, 53 female wrestlers from 20 schools ended up competing in the eighth annual tournament.
“Everyone was so excited to be there and have the opportunity to wrestle other girls,” said Kassie Archambault, head coach of Philips Andover’s all-gender wrestling team. “If you are one of one or two girls on an all-boys’ team, it’s great to know there’s a much larger community out there.”
Phillips Andover (99 points) won the team title for the first time, led by 119-pound champ Eva Murphy, 140-pound winner Dani Nugent, and 200-pound champion Nor DeHoog.
“That was really exciting,” Archambault said. “They’ve been working so hard and they were so happy to see their efforts pay off.”
Other winners included Methuen’s Caitlyn McGee (105), Marianapolis’s Abigail Alicandro (114), Reading’s Latoya Kibusi (129), Shawsheen Tech’s Tayla Tildsley (165), and Middlesex’s Love Daley, who won her finals match in 22 seconds and was tabbed Most Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament for the second time (2019). She’s now a three-time champion.
In addition to the competition, Phillips Andover graduate Marisol Nugent, the first female wrestler on an ACC roster (at North Carolina) and a six-time All-American, ran a clinic.
“It’s important to see mentors who have pioneered and paved the way in this sport,” said Archambault, herself a former Massachusetts and New England champion.
▪ Bill James won his 400th match as the coach at Methuen, 61-15, over Lawrence Wednesday, building on an 18-2-1 regular season. James has tallied 519 total wins after previous stops at Ipswich, Bishop Guertin (N.H.), and Hamilton-Wenham.
In addition to James’s milestone, Wakefield’s Ross Ickes won his 400th career match last Friday with wins over Wayland and Mahar. All of his wins have come at his alma mater … This will be Bobby Lewis’s final season coaching at Pembroke. The school is looking for a coach for next season.
▪ With a 48-27 win over Lowell, Central Catholic (12-1, 6-0 MVL) clinched at least a share of the Merrimack Valley crown with a 48-27 win over Lowell on Wednesday. A win over Methuen on Feb. 9 will lock up an outright title. … St. John’s Prep won its 24th straight Catholic Conference crown with a 62-6 victory over Catholic Memorial on Wednesday. The Eagles (31-0, 5-0 CC) have won 106 consecutive league matches. … Melrose (10-3, 5-0 ML) captured a Middlesex League title with a 37-33 win over Wakefield on Wednesday. … The Merrimack Valley Division 2 title was claimed by Tewksbury on Wednesday with a narrow 39-36 victory over North Andover.
Max Schwartz’s New England Rankings were released Jan. 26 on Connecticut Wrestling Online. Seven Massachusetts wrestlers were ranked first in their weight class: 106 — James Tildsley, 8th grade (Billerica); 113 — Isiac Paulino, Sr. (Monty Tech); 126 — Tyler Knox, Jr. (St. John’s Prep); 132 — Sid Tildsley, Fr. (Shawsheen Tech); 152 — Rowan Iwanacki, Sr. (St. John’s Prep); 160 — Michael Bobola, Sr. (Xaverian); and 182 — Josh Cordio, Jr. (Nashoba Valley Tech).
Matches to Watch
Saturday, State dual meet tournaments, 9 a.m. — North Andover and Duxbury will host the Division 2 and 3 state coaches’ duals, respectively. Franklin will wrestle at St. John’s Prep for the Division 1 crown after several teams declined or pulled out.
Saturday, Cape Ann League/Northeast Conference Tournament, 9:30 a.m. — Beverly, Danvers, Gloucester, Lynnfield/North Reading, Marblehead/Swampscott, Pentucket, Salem, Saugus/Peabody and Triton will face off for league supremacy at Marblehead High.
Sunday, Votech States, 9 a.m. — The state vocational tournament will feature 18 schools gathering at Greater New Bedford Voc-Tech.
Correspondent Brendan Kurie contributed to this story.
Ethan McDowell can be reached at email@example.com.