WOOD RIVER JCT. — A number of years ago, Chariho High wrestling coach Scott Merritt was worried about the future of his program.
The Chargers were a solid Division II team, but other programs were starting middle school programs, and Merritt could see that his team might fall behind others.
Fortunately, the school district started a middle school program, which is a key component in the Chargers' recent success.
This past season was the most successful one in school history. Chariho tied for third at the state championships and finished 11th at the New England meet. Individually, Chariho had a New England runner-up with six qualifiers and two state champions.
"It makes a world of difference having the middle school program," Merritt said. "The wrestlers come to me knowing A, B and C, and I can teach them X, Y and Z. They are coming to me with a mat-savvy mindset.
"Even in our worst of times we always had tough kids, but now we have better wrestlers."
Merritt said many of the wrestlers have a year-round commitment and spend a lot of time at the Mayo Quanchi judo and wrestling school in Coventry. He said the parent support for the program has been top-notch.
All those components parlayed into a big postseason haul for the Chargers.
Topping the list is senior Ben Dougherty, who earned All-New England, All-State and Division I-A honors.
Dougherty was runner-up at 170 pounds at the New England tournament and earned his second state title. Dougherty was 45-5 this season and finished his career at 152-36 with 80 pins. He was also academic All-State.
"He obviously had as dominating a season as you could possibly have," Merritt said. "He is a complete recipient of his hard work. From start to finish, he dominated. He was good for my younger wrestlers to see if you put in the work in the offseason what can happen."
Dominic Bonanno was first-team All-State after winning the state title at 152 pounds. He was also second-team Division I-A and academic All-State. Bonanno was 36-9 with 21 pins.
"He ended up having a great match in the [state] finals," Merritt said. "He occasionally struggled in the winter with his breathing, but he was healthy at the right time. If he is healthy he can compete with anyone in the state."
Bonanno was two points away from making the top six at New Englands.
Kyle Merritt earned second-team All-State honors after finishing as the runner-up at 138 pounds at the state meet. Merritt was second-team Division I-A and academic All-State. He was 42-6 with 33 pins.
"Kyle wrestles all year round and he had a dominating season," coach Merritt, his father, said. "He lost to [Hendricken's] Nick Fine, an All-American last season, by a point in the finals. He is a lead-by-example person. He has a first, third and second at states heading into his senior year."
Junior Nate Marchione was second-team All-State after placing second at 195 pounds at the state meet. Marchione was first-team Division I-A. Marchione was 40-7 with 27 pins.
"Nate had an elbow injury last season that limited his time, but he worked really hard in the offseason lifting. He lost by two points to Ponaganset's [Tyler] Riggs, a two-time state champion. Nate really raised his game."
Senior Cam Anderson was third team All-State after placing third at the state championships at 182 pounds. He was second-team Division I-A after posting a 41-9 record with 28 points. He was academic All-State
Anderson is one of the few on the team who doesn't wrestle year-round. He is a goalie on the soccer team and catcher for the baseball team.
"I can go over things we learned in the offseason and he picks it up after one time," Merritt said. "He wrestles 10-12 pounds lighter than the weight class he competes in. I always call him my freak of nature."
Devin Shaw was third-team All-State at 220 pounds with a third-place finish at the state meet. Shaw was second-team Division I-A and posted a 34-10 record with 20 pins.
"Two years in a row he went to a 28-day wrestling camp in Wisconsin," Merritt said. "He put in the time to get stronger. He probably grew the most physically, emotionally and educationally of any wrestler I've ever had."
Freshman Wade Husing was second-team All-Division I-A after posting a 33-14 record with 20 pins. He finished fourth at the state meet.
James Dougherty (160 pounds) and Levi Barrington (285) were also academic All-State.