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With Hrycuna at the helm, Bears on the rise

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Winnisquam wrestling coach Paul Hrycuna holds his award after being named the Division III Coach of the Year at last month's state championship meet. Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
March 24, 2014
TILTON In just two seasons on the job, Paul Hrycuna has the Winnisquam Regional High School wrestling program going places. After a fifth-place finish at last month's state championship meet, Hrycuna was named the Division III Coach of the Year by the New Hampshire Wrestling Coaches' Association for his efforts.

"It means a lot and it feels really good to know that other coaches and programs are recognizing and showing their support for our program," said Hrycuna of the honor. "I'm very grateful for all the support we have received from everyone over the past two seasons. I came from a successful Division I program (Concord) that taught me everything I know and I brought what I learned over to Winnisquam which, from what I was told, was a dying program. I think this award was not only a major success for me, but for the Winnisquam school district and for the wrestling program as a whole."

Hrycuna's enthusiasm and ability to help grow the program quickly has been as impressive as the Bears' performance on the mats.

"A lot of wrestling programs have been cut over the last few years and preventing another wrestling team from being cut is a big deal," he explained. "All of us wrestling coaches are major supporters of the sport and we all want to see it grow, not shrink. This award means a lot because it shows that Winnisquam wrestling is back for real and it's being recognized again."

The Bears impressed during the dual meet portion of the season, finishing fourth in Division III to set up the state championship performance. Winnisquam had five wrestlers place at the state meet, with two athletes reaching the Meet of Champions in Richie Mills (state champ at 170 pounds) and Tristan Mulleavey (runner up at 106 pounds). Mills made it all the way to the New England Championships in Providence, R.I., winning a couple of matches in that tournament as well.

"We had a great season overall," said Hrycuna. "I think the success we have had so far is due to a number of different things. We have hard working athletes that have made a huge sacrifice and shown major dedication to the sport. Wrestling is not an easy sport and I am not an easy coach. When having such a young team and new rejuvenated program, it's important to have wrestlers that persevere through the season. We train extremely hard and it's a lot of work. Having athletes that wont give up and are willing to push themselves is a major part of the programs success."

Having Mills as a cornerstone piece for the program also helps. The junior won the state title at 170 pounds as a freshman in 2012, and he returned to the top of the podium this year for his second championship in three years.

"It was great seeing Richie make it to New Englands. He had a great season this year," said Hrycuna. "After being upset at states last year he trained much harder and he came back with a vengeance this season. He won just about every tournament we went to this year and only lost to two kids in state and four kids total this year. Richie's goal for next year should be to place at New Englands because he has the ability to do so."

With the rise of the program thanks to a renewed success on both the individual and team level, the rest of Division III has taken notice. Even last year, perennial power Plymouth shifted around their lineup a bit to take down Winnisquam, a sign of respect in the wrestling community. The heart and desire, both trademarks of Winnisquam teams in any sport, has certainly been there over the last two years.

"I have noticed a major change in peoples' perception with the Winnisquam program," Hrycuna explained. "Last year at states I remember a father on another team say "Winnisquam, who the heck is Winnisquam" when he saw our name remaining in the top five teams on the projector. At the same time others were telling us how good we looked. This year coaches told us we were "the real deal." One of the main goals for my athletes is to wrestle tough and give it everything you've got no matter what. I think both coaches and wrestlers know that its going to be a tough match when they have to face a Winnisquam kid, because we don't give up and we wrestle with a lot of heart."

While Winnisquam is indeed on the rise, that doesn't mean the hard work is over. If the Bears want to keep moving up in Division III, next year will be big in shaping the future of the program on a state-wide level.

"I hope to see the program continue to grow," said Hrycuna. "We still have a lot of work to do, but just like our athletes, we are hard-working and know what we need to do in order to keep this program growing. The most important part of growing a program is maintaining numbers and getting more students to join. We do have a middle school program and we are working to help build that program too. The last couple of years it has supplied the high school with a couple of freshmen, next year we have a few freshmen that I know of that will be coming out again. I hope to see the number of freshmen increase each year. All solid programs have feeder programs and its important that we put time into our younger wrestlers because they are the future of our program."

Whatever the future holds, the framework is in place for a Winnisquam program that has certainly come a long ways in just a short amount of time.

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