NORTHBOROUGH – Wrestling is a sport that requires continual intensity and focus. Lose your concentration, for even a moment, and you’ll find yourself staring at the ceiling.
Make the fatal mistake of looking ahead to your next match and even an overmatched opponent could end your tournament in the blink of an eye.
Algonquin Regional High School’s Raphael Knapp was determined to make amends this season following disappointing tournament results last year.
Now a senior, Knapp’s renewed intensity and laser focus were clear from his opening match back in December. Each opponent was a roadblock, standing in the way of his goal, and Knapp played his role as “bulldozer” with an efficiency that was both brutal and relentless.
The result was the greatest single season in Algonquin wrestling history. Knapp won the postseason “grand slam,” capturing championships at the central/west sectionals, the Division 1 states, all-state and New England championships at 170 pounds.
“He’s my first all-state champ and the school’s first all-state champ,” said Coach Brian Kramer, who has led the Titans for 12 seasons. “He is my first New England champion and the school’s second New England champion.”
The first was Mike Wrin in 2009.
“The whole season I was looking toward the New Englands. But once we got to the postseason, I wasn’t looking past that first match. I can’t look at the other side of the bracket. I know that’s when I lose matches,” said Knapp.
The weekend of March 24-25, Knapp competed in the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia, placing fourth with a 5-2 record. For the season, Knapp compiled a record of 63-3. His only other loss came by decision at the Eastern States Invitational Tournament in upstate New York. His career mark is 138-16.
Knapp explained that he was able to put the disappointment of the 2022 season behind him and rededicate himself to his sport at the start of his senior year.
“This year, more than any other year, I just found more love for the sport,” Knapp said. “Just coming into practice every day and enjoying my drilling. I think this started [in the] fall, really just enjoying every step of the way.”
Wrestling is a year-round passion for Knapp. When not wrestling for Kramer at Algonquin, he trains and competes with the Doughboy Wrestling Club. The program is based in Lowell and has produced numerous state champions.
Knapp’s success on the mat has come with a payoff beyond just an impressive collection of medals. Just prior to the start of his senior season, he accepted a full scholarship to wrestle collegiately for Division 1 University of Buffalo. The Bulls compete in the Mid-America Conference, but this past season they also wrestled against such nationally ranked powers as No. 2 Iowa, No. 20 Oklahoma and No. 10 Wisconsin.
A family love of wrestling
Knapp’s talent and success as a wrestler didn’t happen by accident. His natural skills have been honed through coaching, a tenacious work ethic and a competitive fire.
Knapp began wrestling at age 8. He and his brothers were inspired to follow in the footsteps of their father, Matthew Knapp, who wrestled in high school and college. His older brother Andre wrestled in high school and is now at Norwich University, where he wrestled for one year and now runs track. His younger brother Paolo is a sophomore on the Algonquin wrestling team and has been Raphael’s favorite sparring partner.
“[Paolo] is a little smaller than me. He’s at 145. He only really started last year, as a freshman,” said Knapp. “But then he started coming with me to club and training, and he’s gotten a lot better. He’s going to be a captain next year.”
“Raphael plays all sports intramurally. He’s the kind of guy that will get out of a wrestling tournament and then be playing indoor soccer at nine o’clock at night,” said Kramer with a chuckle. “Then he’ll wake up on a Sunday morning, play a lacrosse game and then go to a wrestling practice later. If it’s a game and it’s competitive, he’s going to go out and play.”
This spring, Knapp will satisfy his competitive fire as co-captain for the Algonquin lacrosse team. Lacrosse has long been another passion for Knapp, but when it came to making a choice of where to invest his most time and energy, lacrosse took a backseat to wrestling.
“Playing team sports my whole career, it’s so different than wrestling,” said Knapp. “In wrestling, you know when you lose that match. It’s obviously not your coach’s fault. It’s not a teammate’s fault. It’s about how hard you work and how dedicated you are to the sport as the reason for your losses and wins. That’s what I really love about it. I know that if I work my hardest that I’m going to win the match.”