2015 league champions: Orchard Park (Overall ECIC team champion), Wilson (Niagara-Orleans), Niagara-Wheatfield (Niagara Frontier League), St. Joe’s (Monsignor Martin AA).
2015-16 Section VI state team underclassmen: Mitchell Smith-11 (Orchard Park), Connor Seeley-11 (Wilson), Cary Ignaczak-11 (Lake Shore), Matt Pawlak-11 (Niagara Wheatfield).
2015 All-Catholic underclassmen: Joe Rinaldi-11 (St. Joe's), Jacob Mertz-11 (St. Joe's), Jeff Goris-11 (St. Joe's).
New blood: The top two finishers in last year's Section VI state qualifier, Williamsville North's Ben Reichert and Randolph's Nolan Ditcher, have both graduated. That opens up an opportunity in Section VI for the large group of juniors that were hovering right behind them.
The question is who will separate themselves from the pack. Will it be one of the four returners from the Section VI state team? Niagara Wheatfield's Matt Pawlak finished tied with Ditcher at the state qualifier, losing out on tiebreakers. Orchard Park's Mitchell Smith, Wilson's Connor Seeley and Lake Shore's Cary Ignaczak finished four through six. Ignaczak would turn out to be an instrumental piece for the team at states, shooting a Section VI-leading 157.
A duo of former teammates of Reichert, senior Mike Kessler and junior Mike Wells, are two more names to keep an eye on.
Favorite to Repeat: St. Joe's is once again the team to beat among the large Catholic schools. The Marauders were the Monsignor Martin Class AA Champions last year and are the only team to return All-Catholic team members. Joe Rinaldi and Jacob Mertz are two of the best players in the area and are both back for their senior season. Rinaldi was the individual champion at the Monsignor Martin AA finals, shooting a 76. Mertz was one stroke back, tying with St. Francis' David Hanes for second place.
"Mertz has had a great summer," Bennett said. "He's played in a lot of tournaments. Joey hasn't played in as many, but he did shoot really well in the first day of tryouts. He shot 72 and in those conditions that was a pretty darn good score."
The Marauders' only big loss is All-Catholic team member Jeff Goris, who graduated in the spring.
"Five of our top six our coming back and we have a couple of sophomores and juniors who have really worked hard in the off-season," St. Joe's coach Andrew Bennett said. "I would say we're deeper than we were last year in terms of talent."
Unbeaten Lakemen: The Wilson Lakemen have gone undefeated the past two seasons, winning 28 matches in a row and two-straight Niagara-Orleans titles. They return their top golfer, Seeley, who was the recipient of the Section VI Coaches' Award. He and teammate Ben Kelley each shot 38 to clinch the 14-0 season against Roy-Hart.
Looking for No. 4: Nate Leary, head coach of the Orchard Park Quakers, is confident in his group despite losing top contributor Jack Devic and Alex Prise, who finished 12th at the state qualifier. Leading Orchard Park's bid for a fourth-straight ECIC title is Devic's states teammate Mitchell Smith, who returns for his senior season after finishing 12 strokes behind the leader at states. Although he'll be the focal point, Leary has a younger squad than usual. He's hoping for strong years from two incoming freshmen, Aiden Shaw and Jackson Roskow.
The duo of young guns have already shown they have what it takes to compete at the high school level. Shaw finished in ninth at the state qualifiers as an eighth grader, the only middle schooler to finish in the top ten.
What else is new: The Monsignor Martin is changing their scoring system, moving away from head-to-head matchups in favor of stroke play. The conference will take the low five of six for Class AA and the low four of six for Class A and interdivision games.
Save the Dates: Niagara-Orleans Tournament at 10:45 a.m. on Sept. 30 at Willowbrook Golf Course; ECIC Championships at 9 a.m. on Oct. 11 at Sheridan Park Golf Club; NFL Tournament TBA; All-Catholic Championships Oct. 10 at Fox Valley Country Club; Section VI championships, May 15, 2017 at Gowanda Country Club; state Catholic tournament, TBD 2017 at James Baird Park in Poughkeepsie; NYSPHSAA tournament, June 3-5, 2017 at the Robert Trent Golf Course at Cornell University; state Federation tournament, June 12, 2017 at Bethpage State Park.
Who's going to be Prep Talk Player of the Year? There's as much an opening here as there is for this year's State Qualifier. With Reichert gone, any player in that returning group has a shot, including Pawlak, Seeley and Ignaczak.