No, that's not a misprint. The Wrestling Review of Western New York's first small school poll of the season has East Aurora at No. 2 and Roy-Hart at No. 3.
Both surging programs appear poised for big years after scoring early-season victories over long-standing powers: Roy-Hart beat Iroquois while East Aurora edged Fredonia. Roy-Hart finished last season ranked fourth among small schools while EA was eighth.
At Roy-Hart, second-year coach Kevin Lawson has helped return the Rams to prominence. Lawson is a 1989 Roy-Hart grad who wrestled alongside 1996 Olympian Lou Rosselli.
The Rams were 9-17-2 in the Niagara-Orleans League from 2000 to 2003 before going 6-1 with Lawson on hand as an assistant in 2004. Roy-Hart went 6-0 in the league last season and finished 12-0 overall; the Rams hadn't had an undefeated season since Lawson was wrestling in 1988.
"I just thank my kids -- they've realized quick how important gaining respect is," said Lawson. "I thank the team for doing this in such a short time -- it's a hard thing to do. We're just trying to get a winning tradition back in the school. We've upped our schedule and going to tough tournaments and the kids have really stepped up to the plate."
Among those on the deep Roy-Hart lineup are two-time N-O champ Ben Stopa at 119, defending N-O champ Jeff Brigham (13 0/1 35), senior captains Brett Tinder (152) and Steve Farrell (160) as well as Mark Donnelly (171) and Matt Johnson (189), who both were Class AA place finishers last year.
East Aurora is continuing its climb behind coach Keith Maute, a Lancaster grad in his third season. EA's Nick Czapla is ranked first at 145.
"East Aurora has a program similar to ours," said Lawson. "We might not have the biggest name kids, but they're solid all through the lineup just like us. It's just about making kids believe in themselves and believe what hard work can do."
EA had its best season ever last year, tying for second in ECIC III at 6-2 with Maryvale and Tonawanda while Eden took first at 7-1. This year's title may be decided when East Aurora heads to Eden on Jan. 18.
The pair of coaches with similar hard-working mind-sets decided to have their teams meet in a double-dual meet this Friday with Clarence, which is currently undefeated in ECIC I at 2-0 and 9-2 overall.
>Tough stuff down south
Niagara-Wheatfield may not have won Saturday's Southern Tier Wrestling Officials Association Tournament at Fredonia State, but showed why it's on top of the Western New York large school poll. The Falcons earned a third-place finish in a very tough field that included top out-of-area teams from Pennsylvania and Section V (Rochester area).
Juniors Jake Koshinski (171) and Darren Sneed (189), both ranked first in WNY in their weight classes, advanced to the finals as the Falcons took third with 171 points. N-W also boasts another top-ranked wrestler in junior Zech Lange (125). The Falcons have youth in eighth-grader Antonio Ventry (96), sophomore Jehad Ali (112) and freshman Bobby Malvestuto (130).
Mark Herman of Pine Valley was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler after he beat Mikel Bush of Southwestern, 7-1, for the title at 160. Other local finalists were: Fredonia's Chris Conti (96) and Floripe Rivas (140), Eden's Rob Broda (103) and Salamanca's Matt Metzler (112).
>Around the mats
Also moving up the polls are Starpoint and West Seneca East, third and fourth, respectively, among large schools. . . . Mike Aris won Barker's first state championship last season and the No. 1 wrestler at 135. . . . Always-tough Lancaster returns sophomore Mark Lewandowski at 119; he finished fourth in the state at 103 last year. . . . Cheektowaga is led by freshmen Ryan Jaracz and Jared Messina, who both won Class AAA titles last season. Another freshman, Clay Reeb, already is a team tricaptain. . . . Lancaster grad Mike Sebaaly is the new coach at Frontier. . . . St. Joe's lost seven starters but return All-Catholic Anthony Biagiotti at 160 along with Tom Rozborski, last year's league MVP, at 140. . . . Canisius returns senior Mike Bielecki, the most outstanding wrestler at last year's All-Catholics. . . . Holiday action features Lancaster, Iroquois and Fredonia heading to the tough Spencerport Tournament Dec. 27-28; Maryvale, Akron and Pine Valley will host tournaments Dec. 29 and the Big 30 Classic will be at Olean on Dec. 30. . . . The Niagara Frontier Wrestling Officials Association Tournament at Niagara County Community College will rink in the new year on Jan. 6-7. . . . The postseason begins with class tournaments and the All-Catholic meet on Feb. 11, as the state's large- and small-school format enters its third season. This year's Section VI championships will be at the University at Buffalo Feb. 18 with the state finals at Nassau (L.I.) Coliseum on Feb. 24-25.