For the second year in a row, the Johnston High School wrestling team made some noise at the state tournament.
And it was even a little louder this time.
The Panthers took home four medals and finished in a tie for 10th with Westerly at the tourney, which was held this past weekend at the Providence Career & Technical Academy. It’s the first top-10 finish for the Panthers since 2003, when they finished third. It was also an improvement on last year’s 14th-place finish.
“I’m happy with the way we wrestled today,” said Johnston head coach Matt Mancuso. “There were a few guys who lost early on, but overall, we had a good tournament.”
Last year, senior Mike Gaudiana brought home Johnston’s first individual title since 2003. There were no champions for the Panthers this year, but there were plenty of strong performances.
Justin Caparco led the way with a runner-up finish at 145. The junior surprised Cumberland standout Erik Travers with a 4-3 victory in the semis before getting pinned by Exeter/West Greenwich’s Andrew LaBrie in the finals.
Just getting to the finals, though, was a major accomplishment, especially because of who was standing in the way.
“No one’s really given him credit,” Mancuso said. “He was stuck behind Travers and LaBrie all year long. Nobody knew how good he was, and he came out here and wrestled great.”
Caparco rolled to a 13-0 victory in his first match of the tournament then pinned North Providence’s Emerson DeBrito in the quarterfinals.
That win set him up against Travers, who was tabbed as the No. 1 wrestler in the weight class in unofficial state rankings.
Travers thrives on dictating the pace and taking control immediately, but Caparco didn’t let him do it. He held off every shot from Travers in a scoreless first period.
Travers started down in the second period and got a reversal, but Caparco fought his way out for an escape point, making it 2-1 at the end of two periods.
In the third, Caparco made his move.
He started down and escaped 34 seconds into the period to tie the match. Then, with 51 seconds left, he got a takedown for the 4-2 lead. While he was still in control, Caparco was whistled for locking his hands, which gave Travers a point, but Caparco managed to stay in control the rest of the way for the 4-3 win.
“He did a really great job and just stuck with it,” Mancuso said.
In the finals, Caparco matched up against LaBrie, a familiar foe from the regular season, several tournaments and the Division II sectionals, where LaBrie beat Caparco for the title.
Unfortunately for Caparco, it was more of the same this time as LaBrie took a 4-1 lead in the first period and then got five near-fall points to take a 9-1 lead into the second. He pinned Caparco with 52 seconds left in the second period.
“This was the fourth time they wrestled, so I think LaBrie was in his head a little bit,” Mancuso said. “He wrestled tough but when LaBrie got the back points, I think he kind of broke him.”
Overall, though, the tournament was still a strong one for Caparco.
“He wrestled really hard,” Mancuso said. “I’ll take that all day. I’m really proud of him.”
In addition to Caparco’s second, Johnston took home three other medals. Freshman Marc Conte nearly upset the eventual state champ before settling for third at 145, senior Josh Ribezzo placed fourth at 138 and sophomore Tim Tedesco finished sixth at 126.
Conte won a pair of close matches over Warwick’s Tony Lonczak and Hendricken’s Chris Barone for a spot in the semifinals, where he went against East Greenwich’s Steve Jarrell, a returning state champ.
Conte didn’t look the slightest bit intimidated as he and Jarrell went through two scoreless periods. Finally, in the third period, Jarrell got a reversal with 26 seconds left to take a 2-0 lead. That score held up as Jarrell went on to the finals, where he won another title.
Conte gave Jarrell his toughest match of the tournament.
“He wrestled great against Jarrell,” Mancuso said.
Conte came back with a 10-4 victory over North Providence’s Kevin Mulligan in the consolation bracket and then edged East Providence’s Austin Baptista 3-1 for third place. That win qualified Conte for the New England championships, which will be held this weekend, also at the PCTA.
Ribezzo was also a standout for Johnston with a run to the semis at 138. He lost 10-3 to Cumberland’s Jon Maccini in the semis, but came back to win his next match for a spot in the third-fourth place bout. Coventry’s Dylan Dupre slipped past him 4-3 to take third.
Tedesco made the quarterfinals at 126, where he lost to eventual champ Joao Vicente of East Providence. He bounced back with two straight wins in the consolation bracket before ultimately going home with the sixth-place medal.
Other Panthers who competed were Jesse Ribezzo and Chris Gelardi, who each won two matches; Isaiah O’Brien and Joe Pechia, who won one match each; and Mike Caparco and Devin Soares, who took tough losses early on.
The best news for Johnston is that nearly everybody will be back next year as the Panthers try to make some noise again.
“The rest of the guys coming back are wrestling really tough,” Mancuso said. “So now they just have to put in the work and come out strong next year.