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SALAMANCA'S VIC ARENA LIVES UP TO HIS NAME

If you look up wrestling champion in the dictionary, you won't find a picture of Vic Arena. But try it the other way around:

Victor -- one that defeats an enemy or opponent; winner.

Arena -- an area in a Roman amphitheater for gladiatorial combat.

With a name like that, perhaps the Salamanca senior was predestined to become a great wrestler.

And he has. Arena, a two-time Section VI champion, is five victories away from the all-time Western New York record of 215, set last year by Lockport's Bill Morello. It's likely the 152-pounder will tie the record this weekend as wrestling's postseason kicks off with the classification championships.

Salamanca has its final dual meet tonight vs. Randolph and participates in the Class AA Tournament Friday and Saturday at Eden, in which the winner needs to win four matches to earn a title. The top four finishers in this weekend's class tournaments advance to the Section VI championships Feb. 23-24 at Kenmore West. The Section VI champions advance to the state tournament, March 2-3 at Syracuse's Onondaga War Memorial.

Arena says the win record was a "major goal" of his, but he didn't know how close he was until Morton showed him Morello's record 215 total this week.

"He's a very down-to-earth kid, a very self-motivated kind of kid," Salamanca coach Rich Morton said of Arena, who also played for Morton on the Warriors' Division VII champion football team. "He's been a running back his whole career, and told me last year that 'I'll play the line if you need me.' He was a guard, and he did a darn good job. It was unselfish act for the benefit of the team."

Arena has been wrestling since the age of 5, following older brother (by four years) Andy into the sport. "He pounded on me for a while and taught me," Arena said.

Arena has wrestled varsity since seventh grade, compiling a a lifetime record of 210-26 with seasons of 33-10 (seventh grade), 32-4, 36-3, 37-6 and 43-2. He was honored at this year's Niagara Frontier Officials Tournament after winning a title at that tournament -- arguably the best in Western New York -- an astounding six straight times.

But the match Arena remembers most this season was a loss. Arena's only defeat in a 29-1 season came to Lancaster's Nick Kwiatek -- who is ranked first at 145 -- in sudden death in the 152-pound finals at the Sweet Home tournament. Morton called the loss "controversial" because Arena wasn't credited for what Warrior followers felt was an escape late in overtime. Kwiatek rode Arena for the last six seconds to earn the win in the 1-1 match.

"It seemed like I was the only one there that wasn't upset -- it was more like a shock," said Arena. "Now I use it as motivation. It was a great wake-up call. It taught me not to get overconfident."

Arena is aiming for his third straight trip to the state tournament. After not placing in 1998 and finishing fifth last year, Arena learned some lessons at states which he employed this season.

"I've tried to be more on the offensive," said Arena. "When I got up to the states, I was watching the kids who were winning -- they were the kids that were attacking constantly."

"His real strength is knowing where he is on the mat," said Morton. "He's smart and now he's been more aggressive on his feet. Our attitude is if he can take (the opponent) down and get away from the kid, there's no reason he can't win the match."

Here's a breakdown of this weekend's class tournaments:

Class AAAA at Jamestown (Friday -- 4 p.m.; Saturday -- first session 10 a.m., semifinals noon, finals 7 p.m.): A showcase for top-ranked large school Lancaster and co-No. 3s Niagara-Wheatfield and Niagara Falls includes some intriguing potential matchups at 103 (top-ranked Lorne McCallum of Lancaster and No. 2 Mark Thomas of Niagara Falls) and 160 (No. 1 Bill Hetherington of Niagara-Wheatfield and No. 3 Joe Kuenzi of Lancaster). Other Redskins aiming to back up their No. 1 status are: Mike Sebaaly (119), Derek Ostrowski (135), Kwiatek (145) and Rick Eicheldinger (275).

Class AAA at Albion (Friday -- 4 p.m.; Saturday -- first session 9:30 a.m., finals 6 p.m.): Heavyweight showdowns may involve Pioneer's Chris Purtell (No. 1 and defending Section VI champ at 215) and Tim Schwab (No. 2 at 275) and Iroquois teammates Matt Keem -- the defending Section VI champ at 275 who is ranked third at 215 -- and John Piwko (No. 3 at 275). One of the section's best is top-ranked and defending sectional 189-pound champ Kyle Cerminara of Lew-Port. The lightest class (96) could be in for a nice battle as well, with No. 2 Brian Marmo and No. 3 Jason Rothfuss.

Class AA at Eden (Friday -- 4:30 p.m., Sat -- first session 9:30 a.m., consolation finals 3:30 p.m., finals 5:30 p.m.): Always-competitive meet includes three No. 1s: Arena, former state champ Ryan Needle of Newfane at 125 and Justin Perry of Fredonia at 130. J.R. Roberts of Medina is ranked second at 119. John Perry of Fredonia, Justin's brother, is ranked third at 125 and could meet up with Needle,

Class A at Chautauqua Lake (Friday -- 4:30 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m., semis 1 p.m., consi 4 p.m. finals 6 p.m.): Sophomore Aaron Rowe of Ripley is ranked first at 140 while Kevin Herman of Pine Valley won the sectional title at 152 last year. Herman, an honorable mention at 160, could be headed for a meeting with second-ranked 160-pounder Garrett Hicks of Chautauqua Lake. Other deep classes are 135 (No. 3 Bob Russell of Panama and honorable mention Brandon Guiher of Pine Valley) and 145 (No. 2 Dave Walker of Frewsburg and No. 3 Marc Babcock of Ripley).

Booker leads Catholics

St. Francis' Brandon Booker, named this season's Most Outstanding Wrestler of the Msgr. Martin Association, leads the champions of his league to the New York State Catholic Athletic Association Championships Sunday and Monday at Staten Island's Msgr. Farrell.

Other top contenders are All-Catholic champions: St. Francis freshman Vinny DeMarco (96 pounds), St. Francis junior Kiel Illg (125) and St. Joe's senior Vinny Beltrami (130). Booker is a 171-pounder who went 30-2 this season and passed the 100-win mark.

The top three at Sunday's All-Catholic meet qualified for the state Catholic meet; this weekend's winners earn spots in the overall state championships.

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