It has been a unique season for the Methuen High School wrestling program. Their legendary head coach Bill James has been unable to coach this season as he battles back from serious injuries suffered in an accident in September 2023. Assistant coach John Sughrue took the reins of the program and rallied the team around James and his family.

One of the best wrestlers on the team, senior captain Dom Gangi, had another great season as a Sectional, State, and All-State Champion in the 113-pound class. The 17-year-old son of Jeff and Diane Gangi also wrestles year-round for the Doughboys program in Lowell. He was an NHSCA All-American in 2023 and will be traveling back to Virginia Beach in April to try to repeat.

Dom has represented the Ranger program with superior class and performance, and will continue his academic and wrestling career at New England College – reason enough for a Sports Blitz Q and A.

Sports Blitz: How did it feel when you won the State Championship?|

Dom Gangi: It was indescribable. It’s been a goal to get my name up on that banner (at the MHS Fieldhouse) with so many great wrestlers. It is a feeling that I’ve been waiting for my entire life so achieving it is just amazing.

SB: What kind of work, preparation and effort does it take to achieve this accomplishment?

DG: It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I lost a lot of time because of COVID and injury. It can be very hard to train, maintain weight and be consistent, but when you have a good mindset and the right guys to train with, it makes it easier.

SB: Coach James was unable to be with the team this season, but what have you learned from him?

DG: I learned life lessons on and off the mat. He has taught me so much, and I can’t thank him enough. Losing him this season was devastating to me and my teammates, but we pulled together and had a great season.

SB: How has Coach John Sughrue kept the team together taking over as head coach?

DG: He has done an amazing job. I have so much respect for him and thank him and all the coaches for pushing us through this very different year. Our success is because of his faith in us and his dedication to filling some big shoes.

SB: How has the support of your family helped you in your athletic career at Methuen High School?

DG: It is everything. You need that support when you’re grinding all season. My family has been amazing through all my ups and downs in my career and I can’t say enough about how much I love all of them.

SB: Why is New England College the best choice for you to continue your career?

DG: It just felt right. A huge plus is having my brother Joe there. Having that family to lean on for support is huge for me. I know we can take each other to the next level. We only had one year to wrestle together at Methuen High School, so wrestling together in college is going to be awesome. I will be studying construction management/business there to start.

SB: How have your teammates motivated you and what has being part of the MHS wrestling program meant to you?

DG: We all lean on, drive and motivate each other to be the best. I love these guys. Being in this program has meant everything to me. You pour your whole heart into the sport for the memories and the moments. I will take winning Merrimack Valley Conference with Coach James forever. I will savor those moments being coached by my amazing mentor.

Coaches’ Challenge

John Sughrue stepped up and took the ultimate leadership role for the Rangers’ wrestling program this season. Similarly, Dave O’Hearn, longtime assistant for the Methuen/Tewksbury Red Rangers girls’ hockey team, took over as the team’s head coach this year following the departure of Sarah Oteri Doucette, who stepped down to spend more time with her family.

These coaches were thrust into new roles for different reasons, but both have thrived. O’Hearn’s team was 14-3-2 as we went to press, while the Ranger wrestlers finished 19-3.

“Fortunately, all of our coaches wrestled for Bill,” says Sughrue, whose assistant coaches are his brothers Paul and Kevin. “He taught us well, so we were able to keep the ship moving in the right direction.

“The wrestlers definitely missed Coach James this year, but he would reach out and let them know to stay focused on their goals and work hard. They were always very excited to hear from him.”

O’Hearn has been an assistant coach with Methuen/Tewksbury girls’ hockey since 2016. He also had a Hall of Fame hockey-playing career at MHS, Class of 1995.

He discusses becoming head coach for one of the best programs in the state: “Taking over has been bittersweet. I worked with Sarah Doucette for seven years. She is such a strong role model and one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around in all my years of hockey.

“Her preparedness, passion and knowledge of the sport is second to none. I was excited for the opportunity to lead some of the best young women I’ve had the pleasure of coaching. We have such a great hockey culture. Both communities mesh so seamlessly and the support from both has been tremendous.”

Both Sughrue and O’Hearn were more than qualified to become head coaches, and it helped that they inherited excellent teams. In addition to the State Champion Dom Gangi, Sughrue had several other key performers.

“Seeing Dom win his first state title was unbelievable,” says Sughrue who took over as director of PE, Health, and FCS for the Methuen Public Schools district Feb. 26. “He has a great work ethic, constantly supports his teammates, and takes the advice of his coaches.

“Joey Bolduc, also a senior captain who came in with Dom as a freshman, has progressed significantly from freshman year to senior year where he is now contending for an All-State title. Vinny DeMaio is a sophomore captain, which in itself speaks volumes. To be that young and still command the respect of his teammates is impressive. Vinny’s twin brother Anthony has shown significant progress from when he entered our room until now.”

O’Hearn also has a bevy of talent to work with on the ice. He relates, “MJ Petisce was quietly one of our leading scorers last year. She has shored up an already strong defensive team while adding her offensive output. Lyla Chapman emerged on defense as an 8th-grader for us last year. She is a really strong skater with offensive prowess, and we might just have the two top goalies in the league with Lydia Barnes and Rhyan Pitari. They give us a chance to win every night.

“Our captains set the tone. Kat Schille has deceptive speed and is an excellent skater. Emma Giordano is one of our toughest players. Her motor is constantly going, and her hard style and strong shot creates numerous scoring chances. Bree Lawrence is a tenacious forward who can match anyone in our league – one of the best competitors you’ll find in girls’ hockey.”

Both Sughrue and O’Hearn are exemplary coaches hell-bent on maintaining the reputation and success of their respective programs.

“My goal was to keep the same standard we have set,” says O’Hearn. “I am extremely fortunate to have one of the best assistant coaches in Ryan Sheehy and an older, experienced team. As a program, our expectation is that we compete hard every game with the goal of going far in the Division 1 State Tournament.”

Sughrue, who wrestled at MHS from 2004 to 2008 and has been coaching full-time with James since 2012, relates, “Bill was everyone’s leader, including the coaching staff, so it was certainly different this year. I am very proud of this group. They never gave up on each other no matter the circumstances. We had some great experiences this year that none of them will ever forget.”

John Molori is an author, columnist, and a 2011 inductee into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame. Facebook: John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. Email molorimedia@gmail.com