Jeffrey Worster of Oxford Hills and Nicholas Lincoln of Nokomis compete in the 220-pound weight class during the Class A state wrestling championship at Sanford High School in February. Worster won the meet, pinning Lincoln at 1:24 into the match. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

Jeffrey Worster felt he’d let his first state wrestling championship slip through his fingers in 2019 and couldn’t wait to get one last shot at it this season.

Once the 2019-20 season arrived, though, Worster knew he would have to slow things down on the mat if he was going to redeem himself and reach his ultimate goal.

Not only did Worster win his first state championship by dominating the 220-pound division, he went on to cap his high school wrestling career just two points shy of a New England championship. The Oxford Hills senior’s performance also garners him recognition as the 2020 Sun Journal All-Region Wrestler of the Year.

Worster, also a standout two-way player on Oxford Hills’ football team, felt a lapse in his focus kept him from winning a state title as a junior, when he finished third at the state meet. He was determined not to let that happen again.

“It was really just kind of mental,” Worster said when asked about the difference between this year and last.  “I slowed things down a little bit and wrestled my game. It was just about keeping my head clear, thinking about what you can do in your match before it happened and going out and doing it.”

Oxford Hills coach Shawn Dexter said Worster always had the physical tools and work ethic to be a state champion.

“For his size, he’s extremely athletic,” Dexter said. “And he’s just such a hard-working kid. The preparation has always been there. He’s been putting the time in.”

The challenge for Worster was to hone his skills and maintain his focus through the regular season so that he would be sharp for the postseason.

“JJ didn’t really have many kids to push him during the season,” Dexter said. “So the idea was for him to go out and give the best performance with what he had to work with.”

Worster credited his younger brother Dillon, the Class A 182-pound runner-up, with helping him fill in the gaps during practice.

“He probably pushes me harder than anyone during practice,” he said. “(When the KVAC championships arrived), I felt healthy. I felt ready to go. I just had to go in there and do my thing.”

Worster did his thing better and better as the postseason meets unfolded, pinning all but one of his opponents during the KVAC, Class A North and state tournaments. As the top seed at states, he pinned all three of his opponents in the first period, each one in less time than the previous round.

After finishing third, second and third in his first three tries, Worster finally captured the elusive state championship with a pin of Nokomis’ Nicholas Lincoln 1:24 into the championship final. It was also Worster’s 200th career win.

“It was definitely a relief that I had finally gotten that one in the books,” said Worster, who went on to pin both of his opponents to win the New England qualifier. “A lot of the coaches I’ve had throughout my wrestling career were there and it was great to win it in front of them.”

Those coaches included his father, Jeff, who also wrestled for Oxford Hills (Jeff’s brother, Stacey, was a two-time state champion for the Vikings in the 1980s). Jeff coached his sons when they started at the youth level, through middle school and assisted with the high school program.

Having a loving mentor handy to teach and motivate him or just discuss wrestling strategy over dinner has fostered his love of the sport and accelerated his development as a competitor, Jeffrey said.

“He’s been in my corner for the first nine years of my career,” Worster said. “He pushes us, but only to an extent. He doesn’t push us over the limit.”

His wrestling career has included frequent trips out of the state to compete in freestyle and Greco-Roman competitions. He finished fifth at last year’s New England championships, and twice he has achieved All-Amercian status at the Virginia Beach Nationals.

Armed with that experience, Worster expected to place at his final New England championships.

“I’ve been to New Englands before, and I know out-of-state wrestling is a lot different than Maine wrestling. It’s a lot more aggressive,” Worster said. “But I still had to wrestle smart.”

“When you go outside of the state it’s more or less a street fight,” Dexter said. “There’s no doubt he was even more focused for New Englands than he had been all season. But I wouldn’t say he kicked it up a notch, necessarily. The competition was better so he was more in his element.”

Seeded second, Worster rolled into the semifinals, where he faced a wrestler from Avon, Massachusetts, with whom he had crossed paths before, Chris Gens. Worster’s takedown of the previously unbeaten Gens with 33 seconds left secured a 5-3 win and improved Worster’s record on the season to 54-0.

The final came against an unfamiliar foe, top-seeded Beau Dillon of Methuen, Massachusetts. Scoreless through the first period, Dillon scored an escape and a takedown to take a 3-0 lead in the second. Worster tried to rally with escapes in the second and third period, but time ran out on his comeback and Dillon emerged with a 3-2 victory.

“I probably could have wrestled that one a little better,” Worster said. “I had never wrestled him before, so I started out kind of slow. But I still took second in New England.”

More disappointing than his lone loss, although he didn’t know it at the time, was that the match may have been Worster’s final one, at least for a while, due to coronavirus outbreak causing other out-of-state tournaments, including Newport, to be postponed.

Worster fears they will ultimately canceled, which would leave college wrestling as his only option to continue competing in the sport. He is currently weighing his options between Husson, where he would likely continue to play football exclusively, or Castleton State in Vermont, which could present the opportunity to continue to do both football and wrestling.

“If I chose to do wrestling, I would definitely put the most that I can into it,” he said, “and I feel like I would do well.”

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