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Niagara-Wheatfield the class of WNY Unbeaten Falcons lead charge to sectionals

Tim Lukasik wrestled for, and then coached with, two of Western New York's best coaches in Dick Lang of Newfane and Eric Knuutila of Niagara County Community College.

And he's not doing such a bad job himself.

Lukasik is in his fourth year at Niagara-Wheatfield, which has spent the entire season on top of the Wrestling Review of Western New York's large school poll, went undefeated to win the Niagara Frontier League for the second straight year and has been ranked in the state poll the past five weeks. The Falcons will have several wrestlers attempting to qualify for the sectionals at this weekend's Section VI Class AAAA tournament at Clarence.

"A lot of the things I learned as a coach and wrestler I learned from coach Lang and coach Knuutila," said Lukasik, a 1993 Newfane grad. "As a coach, I've just tried to piecemeal things together that those guys taught me, as an athlete and a coach.

"The morals that those guys teach you and the lessons you learn every day last a lifetime. That's why it's such a great sport, the way it helps build character. It's like coach Lang said, 'For some of you this is the hardest work you'll ever do.' We try and build character and teach those lessons and mold these young boys for life."

Lukasik credits his athletes for their hard work, and one of the first things he did was make sure they had no choice but to work harder. He lengthened practices.

"It started right from the beginning, telling kids about the Wheatfield tradition of working hard and always outworking your opponent," Lukasik said. "The kids knew what it was about and they jumped on board. Now they just expect it."

Lukasik's compliments to his athletes are rooted in their down-and-dirty diligence, but he has the very loftiest phrases to describe his assistant coach.

"Divine intervention" led Lukasik to team up with the person he calls his "guardian angel." That assistant is Rick Sweney, who founded and runs the Niagara Falls Wrestling Club, a nonprofit organization that is incorporated and operates out of a building it owns at 2402 Niagara St., Niagara Falls. Sweney had coached at the original Niagara Falls High School for 24 years until its closing and was looking for a position when Lukasik got the job at Wheatfield in 2002.

"Rick gets as fired up about wrestling as anyone I know," Lukasik said. "He does it all."

The bad news for the rest of Western New York wrestling is that this group of Falcons -- with just three senior starters -- will be around awhile.

Zech Lange (ranked first at 125 pounds), Jake Koshinski (first at 171) and Darren Sneed (third at 189) are three of the best around, and they're only juniors.

Antonio Ventry is an honorable mention at 96 and is in eighth grade. Brothers Bob (130) and Angelo Malvestuto (135) aim to improve on third-place finishes at the AAAA meet last year -- Bob is a freshman while Angelo is an eighth-grader. Jehad Ali, a 112-pounder, is a sophomore who missed the states by one match last year. Tyler Daniels, an eighth-grader, was the 119-pounder until a broken leg ended his season. There are underclassmen at 103 (sophomore John Golden), 140 (junior Josh Sorley) and a pair who tag-team the two heavyweight spots (sophomore Josh Kraft and junior Joe Rickard).

The three starting seniors are Nathan Wiseman (145), Matt Murray (152) and Matt Schnittker (honorable mention at 160). Bob Scalzo did a great job at 125 filling in for Lange, who was injured the past month.

Wheatfield finished fourth at top out-of-area tournaments at Rochester-area power Webster and Syracuse-area power Fulton, took third for the best Western New York finish at Jamestown and won the Niagara Frontier Officials meet at Niagara County Community College.

"When Rick and I started we said let's try to get back to the old Wheatfield tradition, and we really prided ourselves on that," Lukasik said. "We said we're going to get ranked in state, and we finally did this year. When we started we had just two or three kids who had been on varsity, and I remember when we tied Niagara Falls for the league title, Rick and I looked at each other and said, 'Wow.'

"It's really neat to see when you put the time and effort in you can succeed like that. And it takes everybody, the parents are very supportive, our kids club is great and the kids are obviously very dedicated. Rick and I are truly blessed with great kids who work hard."

>All-Catholics on Sunday

If you don't recognize Canisius coach Chris Heximer at Sunday's All-Catholic championships, that's because he had his head shaved by his team. Heximer told his wrestlers they could shave his head if they won the Monsignor Martin regular-season title, which the Crusaders did with a 26-25 victory over St. Francis last week. Ranked wrestlers Dominic Stephens of St. Mary's (135), Mike Bielecki of Canisius (140) and Brian Haas of St. Francis (189) will be in action at St. Francis starting at 9 a.m.



>Section VI class tournaments

Friday (4 p.m.) and Saturday (9:30 a.m. prelims, noon semifinals, 5:30 p.m. finals)

Class AAAA at Clarence: Clarence, Frontier, Hamburg, Jamestown, Kenmore East, Kenmore West, Lancaster, Lockport, Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield, North Tonawanda, Orchard Park, Sweet Home, West Seneca West, Williamsville North.

Class AAA at Starpoint: Amherst, Albion, Cheektowaga, Depew, Grand Island, Iroquois, Lake Shore, Lew-Port, Maryvale, Pioneer, Starpoint, Tonawanda, Williamsville East, Williamsville South, West Seneca East.

Class AA at Fredonia: Akron, Alden, Allegany-Limestone, East Aurora, Eden, Falconer, Fredonia, Gowanda, Lackawanna, Medina, Newfane, Olean, Roy-Hart, Southwestern, Springville, Wilson.

Class A at Ripley: Barker, Cassadaga Valley, Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Chautauqua Lake, Franklinville, Frewsburg, Holland, Maple Grove, Panama, Pine Valley, Portville, Randolph, Ripley, Salamanca, Silver Creek, Westfield.

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