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In midst of championship season, Section VI teams grappling for state supremacy

The Niagara Wheatfield and Lancaster wrestling teams were so evenly matched at the Section VI Dual Meet Championships that it came down to tiebreaker criteria to determine the Division I winner.

Both squads, however, put themselves in position to compete for a state title.

Along with sectional Division II champion Falconer, Niagara Wheatfield and Lancaster will participate in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Duals on Saturday at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena.

“It’s huge for our sport,” said Falconer coach Drew Wilcox, whose team is making its third consecutive trip to the state duals. “This gives kids that wouldn’t otherwise be able to compete at a state tournament a chance to do that. And having the most points at the individual state tournament is completely different than having a team that is capable of winning a state title in a dual format.”

Having reached the semifinals at last year’s state duals, Falconer is 28-1 this season with its only loss coming against Brookville (Pa.). The Golden Falcons overcame strong competition from Iroquois and Newfane to defend their sectional title and are seeded seventh in the 12-team D-II bracket for the state duals.

“We are one of about a half dozen schools that have a chance to win it,” Wilcox said. “We’ll have to wrestle really well, almost perfectly. But if we have a good day, I think we can do it.”

Niagara Wheatfield reached the semifinals in D-I last year after qualifying for the state duals as a wild card. Automatic qualifiers as Section VI champions this year, the Falcons are seeded seventh and in an opening pool with No. 2 Fox Lane, a team they were able to beat last year.

“It all comes down to how mentally ready the kids are to wrestle on that day, how healthy the kids are,” Niagara Wheatfield coach Rick Sweney said. “And then how each of your 15 guys match up the opponent in the different weight classes.”

Lancaster, the No. 1 team in the Wrestling Review of Western New York rankings, is seeded eighth as a wild-card entrant in the state duals. Making their second trip in three years, the Legends are in an opening pool with top seed Minisink Valley.

“We went 0-2 against them two years ago,” Lancaster coach Ron Lorenz said. “We weren’t mentally prepared to wrestle in our first trip down there. But I like how we match up this year and I am very optimistic for how we will do in our pool.”

Sweney called it “an upset” that second-ranked large school Niagara Wheatfield was able to win eight of 15 matches and equal Lancaster with 33 points at the sectional duals.

“They have a good team, good coaching, hard-working kids,” Sweney said. “We were able to out-wrestle them on that day. But they have just as good of a chance as we do to win down at state duals.”

Live results and streaming video for the NYSPHSAA Dual Meet Championships will be available here.

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Lancaster heads to the state duals after beating Western New York No. 3 Clarence in the annual Border Brawl to claim the ECIC I title on Wednesday night. The Legends also won the team title at the ECIC Championships.

“We are flying high right now and hopefully we can carry some momentum into the weekend,” Lorenz said. “To win ECIC I this year was a little more special than most, because our league was so loaded. Beating Clarence in the Border Brawl is always a huge deal for us. Wrestling them was like a state-level dual meet.”

In ECIC II, Pioneer won its seventh consecutive championship and improved to 51-0 in league dual meets during that span.

“The winning streak means a lot to our program,” Pioneer coach Chris Edwards said. “It shows that our kids come prepared to compete every single night. There haven’t been any hiccups over the course of those seven years.”

The Panthers, who have 10 underclassmen in the 15-man lineup, gave Edwards his 200th career victory in a 39-30 win last week against division runner-up Starpoint, a top 10 large school in Western New York.

“The 200 wins is a reflection of our community,” Edwards said. “I’m really lucky to work in the Pioneer district. We have a lot of tough, hard-nosed kids, and great assistant coaches.”

Iroquois, ranked No. 2 among Western New York small schools behind Falconer, won the ECIC III title with six dominant dual victories. The Chiefs placed second behind Lancaster at the ECIC championships.

Falconer extended its streak of CCAA I titles to nine consecutive years.

“That’s something we are really proud of,” Wilcox said. “It’s a very difficult league, with two or three really good teams every year. To find a way to win for nine years in a row says a lot about the commitment and mindset of our kids.”

Portville, ranked sixth in Western New York, repeated as CCAA II champions due in large part to its ability to field a full lineup for every match despite being one of the smallest programs in the section.

No. 3 small school Newfane went undefeated in claiming its seventh straight Niagara-Orleans title and extending its dual match winning streak to 35.

“It’s an indication of the hard work and dedication these kids have put in to continuing this tradition,” Newfane coach Matt Lingle said. “It doesn’t just come from being on the mat November to February. These guys put in the work all through the offseason and understand what it takes.”

While Niagara Wheatfield won the sectional title and holds a higher ranking, Niagara Falls won its first Niagara Frontier League title since 2011. The Wolverines beat the Falcons in a December dual and won the NFL with a victory Wednesday against Grand Island, which had beaten Niagara Wheatfield on tiebreaker criteria a week earlier.

“It’s a heck of an accomplishment to win the NFL because it’s such a tough league,” Niagara Falls coach DJ Giancola said. “We wrestled as a group all year long. We have really strong senior leadership, high-character juniors, a group of gritty, dedicated sophomores and a very talented class of freshmen.”

The Monsignor Martin regular season title will be decided Friday night when St. Francis (3-0) hosts St. Joe's (3-0). The All-Catholic Championships will be held Feb. 9 at Canisius.

Section VI Class Championships get underway Feb. 8 at Williamsville South (AA), North Tonawanda (A), Cheektowaga (B), Falconer (C/D). The Section VI state qualifier tournaments are Feb. 15 at Starpoint (D-I) and Southwestern (D-II), ahead of the NYSPHSAA Championships on Feb. 28-29 at Times Union Center in Albany.

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Niagara Wheatfield’s Justin McDougald recently became the Falcons’ all-time wins leader. The four-time Section VI champion enters the state duals with 227 career victories, tied for 16th in Western New York history.

McDougald’s older brother, Warren, graduated last year with 217 wins and is currently ranked 25th all-time. His cousin, Willie McDougald, became Niagara Falls’ career wins leader in December and is 14th with 231 victories.

Clarence’s Aiden Rabideau became the 42nd member of Western New York’s 200-wins club during the ECIC Championships.

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