Call it the Super Bowl on the mat.
It’s Timberlane against North Andover, a matchup of high school wrestling powers which have dominated opponents within New England for years, but have never tested each other.
Thanks to prodding from Eagle-Tribune sports editor Bill Burt and some schedule maneuvering, the wrestling titans will square off Saturday evening, Dec. 16 in what is truly a dream matchup.
In just the last two years, since Carl Cincotta took over the North Andover program, the Knights have gone 52-3 and won their second and third of three straight Division 2 state titles. And last year they finished fourth at the New England meet.
It’d be hard to match a record like that, but Timberlane surpasses it. While wrestling teams far and wide, the Owls have been 46-3, their only losses coming to Danbury, Conn., and twice in the National Festival Duals in Pennsylvania.
In tournaments, the Owls have no equal, having ruled the rugged Lowell Holiday and Redskin (Maine) tournaments for years and winning the last five New England crowns, something no one has ever come close to accomplishing.
Still, while Timberlane is considered the king of the mat, the Knights have generally boasted so much depth that some have argued that they could topple the Owls in a head-to-head matchup.
What has previously been just debated, however, will now be decided on the mat, something that excites wrestlers from both schools.
“I think we’re really looking forward to wrestling them and beating them,” said North Andover senior Danielle Coughlin. “They’re the team to beat and it would mean a lot to beat them.
“Beating weaker teams doesn’t mean much when you’ve won three state titles in a row.”
The Owls have nothing to prove, but they respect the Knights and welcome the challenge.
“We know they’re a great team but when you’re a good team like we are, you want to wrestle the best,” said Timberlane senior Adam Corey. “It’s definitely going to be a great dual meet.”
In what is expected to be a yearly matchup, North Andover agreed to start the series at Timberlane, which is well known — with its spotlight on the mat and vocal crowds — for its exciting atmosphere.
“I think it’s going to be a great meet, especially at home,” said Timberlane senior Josh Riley, who sometimes works out with North Andover standout Ryan Neals. “We’re always tough at home. We have strong unity and we feed off our fans.”
Adds Corey: “It’s awesome that it’ll be at our place. We always have good dual meets, but this will be a crazy one, that’s for sure.”
Cincotta, who agreed to drop the Knights out of tournaments at Wilmington and Wayland to make the matchup happen, is happy that the details were ironed out.
“I’m excited for our kids to have the opportunity and this will be good for the sport,” said Cincotta. “You want to see how you measure up against the best and they’ve shown they’re the best.”
Timberlane coach Barry Chooljian, who has guided the Owls to a stunning 447-44-5 record and a record 10 New England title in 29 years is equally pleased with the matchup.
“We’re always looking for competitive teams and we’re excited about hosting a big dual meet,” said Chooljian. “We know they’re a very good team and having a dual meet at our place is pretty special.”
Prior to the varsity meet, a JV meet will be held between the teams and there is some talk about the North Andover and Timberlane youth programs getting involved as well.
Who will win? Both teams graduated four seniors but are loaded with returning standouts, including Corey (35-10), Burnham (43-7), Riley and Dan Scalzo for the Owls and New England runner-up Brad Drover (47-10), sophomore star Fritz Hoehn (45-5) and Neals (48-6, fifth in New England) for the Knights.
Any way you look at it, this is a dream matchup that is finally going to become a reality.
Matchup background Timberlane -- Won last five New England titles and 10 overall (both records), 46-3 over last two years in dual meets and 447-44-5 in past 29 years under Barry Chooljian North Andover -- Captured last three Division 2 state titles, finished fourth at New England last year, boasts 52-3 record over last two years