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The Yankee Express

Numbers up, future promising for Shepherd Hill wrestlers

Justin Kelly (above) and Sawyer Ayotte (below) are two reasons why Shepherd Hill High School’s wrestling program is showing promise.


In the past the Shepherd Hill wrestling program has not been fortunate enough to have a full team. This year some 40 athletes turned up for the initial tryouts, though, leaving Coach Ray Ayotte optimistic as the winter season got under way. 
“I really don’t know what happened this year, for some reason kids started coming out of the woodwork to try wrestling,” the coach said.  “We’ll be a very young team, but one that will be great for the future. In the past we’ve had to forfeit a lot of matches because we couldn’t fill the weight classes. This year was different.”


Ayotte has been with the program for eight years and he cannot remember the last time that he had a full roster. 
One of the biggest surprises on the wrestling season for the Fighting Rams was eighth grader Sam Philion. The middle schooler recorded 20 plus wins this season wrestling in the 106-pound weight class and qualified for the State Tournament, where he unfortunately went 1-2 and was eliminated. While he may have found a diamond in the rough for this past season, Ayotte believes that he will lose the middle schooler to St. John’s next year.
In addition to Philion, Shepherd Hill also had three other grapplers qualify for the State competition. Advancing into the post -season tournament were Sawyer Ayotte at 138 and alternates Justin Kelly at 113 and Diego Gutierrez in the heavy weight (285) division.
In the Division 1 West Central Sectional Tournament Ayotte finished in second place and then took home fifth place in the State Tournament, allowing him to gain access to the All-State Tournament. Kelly and Gutierrez both finished fifth in their respective weight classes in the Sectionals, giving them that alternate status for the State Tournament. 
At the States a wrestler failed to make weight in the 113-pound weight class, allowing Kelly to step up and get his opportunity. Being the alternate, Kelly was ranked as the final wrestler (16th) in the weight class, but the Shepherd Hill wrestler fought his way out of the bottom all the way to finish in fifth place.
“He continued to practice all week and was ready to go when he found out that he would be wrestling in the State Tournament,” Coach Ayotte said. “Justin had a bad day at the Sectionals and was a much better wrestler than he showed that day, so he was pumped up and very excited to get the opportunity to wrestle in the States.”
According to the coach, the two sophomores finished just about where they should have finished in the State Tournament. The four athletes in front of both Shepherd Hill wrestlers are unbelievable grapplers. 
Overall, Coach Ayotte was able to field a team that participated in each and every weight class this winter and although a relatively young team he is optimistic about the squad’s future. 
“Sawyer and Justin are only sophomores, and we have a bunch of freshmen and eighth graders on the team,” Ayotte said. “They are all on the same track giving us a very solid foundation over the next few years. This year’s success is starting to show we are making our mark and getting more attention coming.”
The success that the Shepherd Hill wrestling program has had is giving the coach more hope that more wrestlers will come out for the team next year. He hears the whispers of the reputation that the team is earning and people are talking about the Fighting Rams wrestlers.
Participating in the All-State Tournament Kelly was eliminated on day one, while Ayotte took sixth place and qualified to continue his season at the New England Championships on March 3rd and 4th.