Israel Martinez, the co-chairman for wrestling in Section VI, is full of confidence about this weekend’s state championships – particularly when it comes to the Division II (small schools) representatives.
“We are loaded,” said Martinez, from Niagara Falls High School. “We earned 12 at-large bids. That’s in addition to 15 champions that are going. We’ve always had a good section team with the small schools.”
The state wrestling competition is part of one of the biggest weekends of the year in local high school sports. While the Section VI basketball playoffs will receive plenty of attention, many other sports will see their seasons climax with regional or state competition.
Wrestling fans will be paying close attention to the performance of Kellen Devlin of Amherst at the Times Union Center in Albany on Friday and Saturday. He is the top seed in the 132-pound weight class, and he is trying to join some elite company by winning his third state championship.
Section VI has another seeded wrestler in that class in Phil Calandra. The Depew wrestler is ranked eighth. Therefore, he is one match away from a potential meeting with Devlin. That’s a tough break for Calandra. Then again, this is the state championship. There aren’t supposed to be any easy matches.
“Upsets do happen, but every kid is good,” Martinez said. “There are a handful of undefeated kids, and some returning state finishers.
“Then there is someone who finished second in a section to a state champion, and therefore isn’t as well known.”
One such surprise took place in the Section VI final in the 152-pound class for small schools. Zack Bierfelt of Olean pulled off an upset of Dakota Gardner of Fredonia in the Section VI final. But it still will be Gardner who will be the No. 1 seed in the state tournament, with Bierfelt close behind at third.
“We know that Zack is tough, but we know Dakota is tough too,” Martinez said. “If you get caught on your back in a match with a section champion, you’re in trouble.”
Top seeds from Section VI are spread throughout the bracket. It’s most apparent at 285 pounds. Laith Alsous of Lewiston-Porter is seeded first, but Nick Jones of Dunkirk is ranked second.
The other Section VI wrestlers in Division II who are seeded in the top four are:
99 – Dalton Gardner, Fredonia, third; 120 – Ryan Hetrick, Maple Grove, fourth; 138 – Brad Meiler, Maple Grove, first; 182 – Jake Peru, Falconer, first; and 220 – Charles Beach, Medina, second.
The Buffalo area usually does well in Division II competition. The top competitors in that class often come from Section V (Rochester) and Section III (Syracuse).
The news for Section VI isn’t quite so good in Division I (large schools), but there are some wrestlers who could make noise in the tournament.
Mitch Seaver of Lockport is ranked second in the 102-pound class. He was third in the state tournament last year, and has a 39-0 record in 2015-16.
Freddy Eckles of Lake Shore is a threat at 132 pounds. His Section VI championship win was the 200th of his career.
Anthony Argentieri of Kenmore West isn’t seeded because of an injury that cost him six weeks of the season, but he looked to be in good form in taking the 120-pound class in the sectional final. Argentieri could be an interesting sleeper in Albany. The senior would meet top seed Anthony Sparacio of North Babylon in his second match.
Zack Breeden of Grand Island is a No. 3 seed at 195 pounds, while Troy Keller of North Tonawanda is undefeated but only a No. 7 seed. He’s something of a dark horse who could surprise the better-known wrestlers in the field.
Downstate sections usually are the best in the competition among big schools. Wrestling uses an unusual point system to determine team champions in the state match.
“They take the highest point total from each section in each weight class, and tally those points up,” Martinez said. “Whoever does the best for our section counts in the scoring.”
In other words, if Section VI had a first and a second in a specific weight class, it only would receive points for the winner.
Preliminaries were held on Tuesday and finals will go Wednesday at the Flickinger Center pool on the Erie Community College City Campus. The next step is the state championships back in Buffalo on March 3-5.
The Section VI Indoor Track & Field State qualifiers will be held in the Kerr-Pegula Field House at Houghton College on Saturday. The best will move on to Cornell University in Ithaca the following week.
Three records already have been set this season in Section VI competition, so those athletes certainly will bear watching. Colin Blair of Lancaster has the weight throw record at 69’-8¾”. The Legends’ 4x200-meter relay team of Dave Wolanin, Connor Fuller, Cal Hoag and Dave Farace recorded a time of 1 minute, 32.59 seconds.
On the girls side, Lancaster also has the record holders in the 4x200-meter relay. The team is comprised of Molly Scarpello, Ashley Grazen, Olivia Gervan and Isabella Licata.
Sam Peterman of Sweet Home is ranked second in the 3,000-meter run and first in the 1,500, while Peter Rindfuss of Hamburg is the top qualifier in the 3,200- and 1,600-meter runs. Both had success during cross country season.
Noah Fox of Alden will try to end his career in appropriate style on Saturday at West Point when he takes part in the state championships. Fox won several titles in last year’s competition, and he’s broken a few of his own records during the 2015-16 season.
Alden and Lancaster split the team championships at the Section VI competition earlier this month.
It is back to work for the area’s best gymnasts after a long layoff, at least by high school standards.
Zoe Kyriakopoulos of Williamsville North won the all-around title at the Section VI championships way back on Nov. 5.
She joins Miranda Robertson and Gabbi Gare of Williamsville South as the section’s team at the state championship. That competition will be held at Shaker High School in Albany on Friday and Saturday.
The best bowlers from Section VI end their long layoff between competitions when they take part in the state championships on March 5-6. They’ll be right back at Airport Lanes in Cheektowaga, site of the sectional competition earlier this month.
Nate Maloney of Niagara Wheatfield and Danielle Milo of Orchard Park earned individual titles at the sectionals. Milo will be joined by her high school team at the state tournament, as the Quakers also won the team competition. For the boys, Frontier won its third sectional championship in four years.
There will be plenty of high school hockey action locally in the next few weeks, and Western New York teams hope to take part in all of it.
The large schools of the Western New York Federation will stage their semifinals on Wednesday night at the Northtown Center in Amherst. Williamsville North plays Clarence and Orchard Park goes up against Niagara Wheatfield.
The small schools wait until Thursday, when Kenmore East faces Williamsville South and Hamburg takes on Williamsville East.
Then it is on to Super Monday, with three championship games in a row taking place in First Niagara Center. The small schools meet at 4 p.m., the large schools go at 6:15 p.m., and the private schools – Canisius and St. Joe’s – begin at 8:30 p.m.
The home-ice advantage continues for Section VI in succeeding rounds. The regionals will be held at Northtown Center on March 5. Then the state finals will be staged at HarborCenter on March 11-13.
The top two seeds are matched in the WNY Federation final in girls hockey on Thursday, as Msgr. Martin plays Williamsville at Northtown Center.