N-W’s Helbig, Popp not just satisfied with sectional titles
Helbig, a Niagara-Wheatfield freshman, along with his senior teammate Marcus Popp, are in Albany this weekend with the goal of bringing state wrestling championships home to Niagara County.
Helbig captured the Section VI large school title at 113 pounds when he topped Orchard Park’s Dan Gacek 5-3 in overtime during the sectional championships that were held Feb. 10 at UB.
Ranked No. 5 in his weight class, Helbig proved he was ready for the big dance when he beat the No. 3 ranked Gacek, a senior.
A second year varsity wrestler, Helbig was lacking some confidence early on. But a big win over Kenmore West senior Ron Duguay set Helbig on the right path.
Duguay, who has 150 career wins, was a state qualifier last year.
“He’s got a lot of confidence right now,” said Popp, “so we’re both going out there to place.”
Popp, the No.1 ranked grappler at 132 pounds, punched his ticket to states when he beat No. 2 Brandon Glauber of Clarence by a 4-2 decision.
While Helbig and Popp have certainly proven their worth on the mat, Falcons coach Rick Sweeney said next up is facing the mental challenge that come with being in the spotlight at the Times-Union Center in Albany.
Helbig, who is seeing states for the first time, will have to guard against losing focus. Popp has the plus of witnessing the tournament as a spectator, so he won’t be taken aback by the atmosphere and the sheer size of it all.
Popp has also gotten by a nagging ankle injury that cost him some time midway through the season and said he feels healthy and ready to go.
Most of all, Sweeney is sending the message to Popp and Helbig that it isn’t just about getting there, it’s about winning.
“One of the problems with sectional champs if they’ve never been (to states) before is it’s like they’ve (already) made their goal,” Sweeney said. “So they need to start thinking beyond that — how to place in states or win in states.
The first sectional champ I ever had years ago in Niagara Falls, lost his first two matches and said, ‘well, I got my goal; I made it up there.’ That wasn’t the object.”
Sweeney said that while getting to states is certainly something to be proud of, he is stressing to Helbig and Popp that they can’t be satisfied with just getting there.
If they do, Sweeney belies the two could fall victim to mentally shutting down when they face a tough opponent.