Talk about conflicting emotions!
When the Timberlane wrestling team invades North Andover on Dec. 27 for the second battle of mat powerhouses, Knights’ junior Stephen Cincotta will be in emotional turmoil.
On the one hand, Cincotta will be excited for the chance at redemption for North Andover after last year’s lopsided defeat to the Owls.
“It’s a really big meet — we got whipped last year and we definitely want some revenge,” he said. “We’ve been looking forward to this.”
On the other hand, Cincotta will be down in the dumps because he won’t be out there with his teammates competing in what is clearly the region’s marquee dual meet.
“This will be a really tough one to miss,” he said. “I like going to the meets but it kills me inside to see my friends wrestling. I want to be out there helping the team.”
Unfortunately, Cincotta has gotten accustomed to missing not only big meets but, because of a slew of injuries, virtually all meets over the last four years. If there were a poster boy for athletic injuries, he’d be a leading candidate.
Over the years, Cincotta has had two knee surgeries for a torn meniscus, two shoulder surgeries, the most recent coming Oct. 8, and three elbow surgeries, with a fourth scheduled for Jan. 8.
His elbow problems have been with him since he was 4 years-old and broke his growth plate when he fell off a chair. When he got his cast off, it was discovered that the injury hadn’t healed properly. He’s been trying to correct the problem ever since.
“There’s a bone chip stuck in the elbow and sometimes it makes my elbow lock.” said Cincotta, whose father, Carl, is the Knights’ coach and whose older brother Nick is a senior on the team. “I can’t straighten it out. I’ll wake up sometimes in a lot of pain.”
The knee problems began in the seventh grade when he injured it wrestling while the extent of his shoulder woes, which is the main reason he won’t wrestle this year, are more recent.
“I’ve had a sublexing shoulder pretty much my whole life — it pops in and out,” said Cincotta. “Then last year, it got really bad in the Marshfield tournament. It would pop out four or five times in a match. I was in pain ... later we found out that I had torn both labrums.
“I’ve had a lot of pain, but that (shoulder) pain was so bad, something had to be done.”
But the shoulder pain, which has resulted in two surgeries, may be equaled by the psychological pain of not doing what he loves. After winning a national tournament (Tournament of Champions in Ohio) in the fourth grade and winning New England as a fifth grader, he has had only one relatively complete season, as a freshman, on the mat.
He missed all of the sixth grade due to elbow surgery, he wrestled in just one tournament in the seventh grade because of knee surgery, missed the eighth grade because of knee and elbow surgery and was lost for almost the whole season last year because of the shoulder.
A career that looked so promising in the fifth grade has disintegrated as his body has let him down.
“I had success in middle school and I just wanted to continue,” said Cincotta. “My dream, my goal was to be a state champion in high school.”
Cincotta gave a hint of how good he might have been in his limited time on the mat last year. In the opener at Timberlane, he gave talented Owls’ senior Josh Riley all he could handle before losing 4-2. That next weekend, he won his weight division at the highly regarded Marshfield tournament.
“That was like a Christmas present,” he said. “I remember going to my dad after and saying ‘Merry Christmas, this is my gift.’”
But the win at Marshfield came at a price and, other than three matches in the Springfield Duals the next weekend, Cincotta has not wrestled since. He’s currently relegated to biking (running hurts his shoulder) and light lifting, using just the right side of his body, while trying to support his teammates.
It would seem logical to conclude that Cincotta’s high school career is over, but he is not willing to give up on it just yet — regardless of what his doctors advise.
“My goal is still to win a state title for myself and the team,” he said. “That’s why I’m getting all of these surgeries this year, so I can wrestle next year.
“My doctors don’t want me to wrestle but they tell me it’s my body and I can do what I want. And I still love to wrestle, I always have. My dream now is that my dad can coach me again and we can win another state title together.”
For now, however, Cincotta must remain on the sidelines, wishing and hoping, and area wrestling fans are unable to watch a young wrestler who might have been one of the great ones.
If there’s one definite positive for Cincotta, other than acting as an inspiration for others with his never-give-up attitude, it’s that, over the last several years, he may have found his future career.
“I’m really thinking of being a physical therapist,” he said. “I’m always in a physical therapist’s office and I’ve seen them help people feel better. That’s something I’d like to do.”
In the last five years, North Andover senior Stephen Cincotta has endured seven surgeries, to his elbow, knee and shoulder, with an eighth scheduled for next month. As a result, he’s been off the mat more than on it.
4th-5th grade — Healthy and successful, he won the Tournament of Champions in Ohio as a fourth grader, and was a New ENgland champ while finishing second in a national tournament as a fifth grader.
6th grade — Didn’t wrestle because of elbow surgery
7th grade — Wrestled in one tournament, which he won, before a torn meniscus in his knee ended his season
8th grade — Didn’t wrestle because of knee and elbow surgery
Freshman — Relatively healthy, won 12 matches as backup to state champ Jason Ricketts
Sophomore — Wrestled seven matches, winning the Marshfield Tournament, before tearing both labrums in his shoulder, ending his season.
Junior — Out for the year after shoulder surgery