NORTH TONAWANDA – Boy did the McDougalds have a tournament to remember.
So too did a group of seniors who experienced that championship feeling for the first time in their careers.
On a day in which Section VI competed for spots into the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Tournament later this month, the three McDougalds wrestling cousins each earned second trips to states. Unlike their previous ones, all three will be going to the event together during the same season.
Brothers Justin and Warren McDougald of Niagara Wheatfield and Willie of Niagara Falls each captured the second Section VI Division I championships of their young careers during the tournament whose winners earned an automatic berth to the state tournament Feb. 24-25 at Times Union Center in Albany.
Justin, a freshman, completed a McDougald family sweep in the last match of the tournament as he earned a 1-0 triumph at 113 pounds over familiar foe Mitch Seaver of Lockport to earn Most Outstanding Wrestler honors after winning all three of his matches Saturday to improve to 37-4 on the season.
"I've been doing this (almost) all my life," said Justin, who beat Seaver for the second time in as many weeks and went 3-1 against the Lion this season. "An accomplishment like this and receiving three Most Outstanding Wrestlers in the same year it defeats the purpose of accepting defeat."
Justin will be go to states the same year as his brother for the first time. Warren captured the 132-pound title via decision and earned a trip to Albany the same season as cousin Willie, who dominated his foe at 126.
"Everyone goes home happy," said Justin McDougald, who won a sectional title at 99 pounds last year. "To get all three McDougalds in … it feels really good to get the family in as a unit that way no one's sitting in the stands watching the other like last year."
That's because unlike last year, two of the McDougalds did not have to go through each other in a final. Willie got the better of Warren via 1-0 decision at 113 to earn a spot on the Section VI bus to the state capital.
Keeping familial encounters off the mat during this year's event that attracted an estimated 1,000 at North Tonawanda High School enabled each to thrive.
Willie McDougald, a freshman, won via technical fall, 20-3, over Hamburg's Ryan Hornstrom. It's the third time he's beaten Hornstrom this season as he heads into states with a flawless 45-0 mark.
"It was kind of weird last year because it was my cousin," Willie said. "Getting to see a different face made me feel better."
It also worked wonders for Warren, the Niagara Wheatfield sophomore. He secured his second trip to states in three years by capturing the 132-pound championship over Williamsville North's Vinny Catanzaro, 6-4. While losing to a family member did little to alleviate the sting of defeat last year, it did motivate him to be better and he had to be good to hold off a tough challenger in a rematch of last week's Class AA final – also won by McDougald, who is now 47-7.
The three grew up wrestling in the same club before winding up at different high schools.
They have been known to have impromptu bouts in the living room of their respective homes. "It's really intense but it's fun," Warren said of those matches. "We're really close."
The spotlight also shined brightly on first-time winners set to graduate in spring.
That included Lake Shore's Shaerod Rodgers and Lawrence Jenkins. Both bounced back from runners-up finishes a year ago to move up a spot on the podium. Both did so dramatically, with Jenkins needing to wait out a protest committee ruling after he had already celebrated a 3-1 overtime win at 195 pounds over Dillon Knoll of Hamburg.
Jenkins scored a two points before time expired in the first overtime near the edge of the circle. The issue: Hamburg believed Jenkins may have been out of bounds. The protest committee upheld the original ruling that awarded the decisive points of the match to Jenkins, who's 32-2 with 151 career wins.
"I had already started celebrating with my teammates," Jenkins said. "I wasn't really nervous but was dazed. ... It's amazing. I've wrestled for six years and this is what I've worked for."
Rodgers won via pin late in the second period against Sean Kloss of Clarence at 285 – escaping from Kloss' grasp and quickly putting him into a pinning predicament.
"I just felt him get his hips high so I popped my head to get my hips out," said Rodgers, who moved up from 220 after a runner-up finish at ECICs. "I saw his head and went for the half nelson. … I worked hard all season for this moment."
Lockport senior Steven Kapuscinski improved to 41-0, earning his first trip to states with an 11-0 win at 152 pounds over Shayne Failey of Lake Shore. Matt Cicco of Niagara Wheatfield, who won at 182 via 5-3 decision over Lancaster's Joe Andreessen, also is state bound for the first time.
Another senior who is a first-time champion is Matt Genau of Williamsville South, who took a 10-6 decision over Lockport's Dontay Gill at 120.
"I've never felt anything like this," said Genau, who received a big hug from his father afterwards. "All these years of hard work paid off. It's the biggest relief."
Iroquois' Connor Day is also a senior. He's no stranger to states.
He won his third straight championship – this time capturing the 145-pound class via pin over Niagara Wheatfield's Josh Thibeault.
"My first Section VI title was definitely the best because I upset the favorite that year," said Day, who took fifth at states last season. "This year as a senior it was really cool. It was cool having my little brother (Cory at 138) in the finals. He didn't win but he's a sophomore and he wrestled tough."
Lancaster's Mason Mastrangelo won his second straight title at 220, pinning Sweet Home's Brad Shaw. Teammate Ryan Stencel, a freshman, won the title at 138 via 2-0 decision.
Other champions included Aiden Rabideau of Clarence (99), Lancaster's Parker Rozler (106), Sweet Home's Dominic Crouse (160) and Hamburg's Jacob Smeader (170).
Crouse set the Sweet Home record for career pins when he recorded his 77th against Dan Emblidge of Grand Island in the final.