H.S. Wrestling Preview Lake Shore may have encore in store, after all
Bill Sills Jr. had lost too many quality wrestlers over the past two seasons to come into this year’s campaign expecting that a much more inexperienced Lake Shore team would be able to defend its division title and make as much noise during the postseason as it has in recent years.
But the Eagles head coach is quickly beginning to change his tune after what he’s seen during the first two weeks of the regular season.
Lake Shore has won both matches against fellow ECIC II competition, taken second at the Maple Grove Invitational and finished second as a team over the weekend (Dec. 7-8) at the Southtowns Duals inside the gymnasium of St. Francis.
Behind a group of talented young wrestlers and veterans who have waited their turn to break into the lineup, Sills is now cautiously optimistic that his team can repeat many of the same successes the program’s enjoyed of late.
“I don’t want to say that yet — it’s too soon, but they’ve looked good,” Sills said.
Over the past three seasons, many of these wrestlers have watched as the Eagles have grown into division champions for the first time since 1996-97, in addition to Pat Mix becoming the program’s first two-time sectional champion, Joe Catalano breaking on to the Section VI stage as a champion and John Inglut becoming the school’s fifth 100-win wrestler.
The Eagles lost eight starters from last season, including six who were 25-match winners, while Inglut and Catalano both won more than 40 matches. But apparently this year’s group may have an encore act ready to go for this season.
“I think they did learn from those guys,” Sills said. “We run simple, basic practices for these guys and there just executing their moves. A lot of these guys worked hard for two years to get to this point. This year, many of them came back and are taking advantage of some openings in the lineup.”
Among the Eagles leading the charge are returning wrestlers David Killian, a freshman at 99 pounds, and Matt Gruka, a senior at 170, both of whom finished unbeaten at 8-0 and were members of the all-tournament team at St. Francis. Gruka is one of those veteran wrestlers stepping into a starting role, while Killian is becoming dominant after just two seasons ago not being heavy enough to compete in the lightweight spot.
Also over the weekend, Oshae Rodgers, a senior first-year starter, went 7-1 in an extremely competitive 152-pound weight class, while fellow upperclassman Hunter Whitney, only in his second year wrestling, also went 7-1 at 182 and senior Anthony Zolnowski matched that success at 195. Whitney and Zolnowski are two more seniors taking advantage of their opportunity this year.
Of the team’s youngsters, eighth grader Lawrence Jenkins went 6-2 at 113, while returning starter Fred Eckles finished 7-1 at 126. The versatile Eckles can wrestle anywhere from 120 to 138 if need be, according to his coach.
Junior heavyweights Briar Dils and Luke Catalano, who were both contributors last season as starters, finished 6-2 at 220 and 285, respectively. Luke Catalano, the younger brother of Joe, won an ECIC title and finished as a sectional runner-up in 2011-12.
Now at 9-1 overall, Lake Shore’s only loss came at the hands of Lew-Port, 37-33, which turned out to be the deciding factor in crowning the Southtowns Duals champion. Lew-Port finished the tournament 8-0.
At the Maple Grove Invitational, which is an individual competition, Lake Shore was beat out in total points by only Fredonia. Eckles, Catalano and Jenkins all took first place, while Dills placed second, Killian, third, and Rodgers and Whitney were both fourth.
Hamburg is a more seasoned group than it’s been in recent years and the Bulldogs are already reaping some of those benefits.
Led by a lineup minus only three senior starters from last year, Hamburg finished 5-3 at the competitive Southtowns Duals, including scoring a big win for the program over perennially-strong Eden.
“We’ve got five seniors back, some young guys back from last year and some other younger kids stepping in, so we’re hoping they gel together and can become successful,” Hamburg head coach Ken Meyer said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a good season and then we’ll have 10 returning starters that should be back next year.”
Earning all-tournament at St. Francis was eighth grader Jacob Smeader, who finished unbeaten over the weekend and has lost only once so far this season, now at 12-1. Fellow eighth grader Dillion Knoll has also shown quite a bit of potential at 120 as a returning starter. Knoll took first at last year’s sectional class competition, then was sixth at the Section VI Championships.
Leading this group will be senior captains Brendan Knoll at 198, who finished fifth in sectional competition last year, Tyler Aul at 138 and John Bard. Meyer also said junior James Fisk gives Hamburg a shot to win every match in the heavyweight spot.
Eden will be fielding the youngest team it has had in years, but there are still some tough challengers in maroon and the promise is there for the future.
Head coach Tom Page said his team is experiencing some growing pains as he went through a 4-4 day at St. Francis, which also included just missing beating Western New York power Roy-Hart but upsetting a strong Grand Island.
“We still have some veterans, but there’s a whole new set of coaching challenges when you have a younger team like this,” Page said. “You don’t have as much leeway with the studs that we’ve graduated. But this has been the most coach-able group I’ve had and I’m very happy with their efforts.”
The biggest wrestler to replace is Page’s son, Tom Page, who won a sectional title three straight seasons and landed a pair of third-place finishes in state competition. However, the coach may have a few potential sectional contenders left.
Junior Alex Smythe has placed in sectional competition in his first four seasons as a wrestler but is still working on getting over the hump to winning a title on the big stage. He battled the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler Drew Hull of Roy-Hart at 152 before falling 1-0 to the state runner-up. “That was a very good match,” coach Page noted. “Alex can do it, as long as he stays focused.”
A pair of seniors in Ryan Vondell at 182 and Brady Bermingham at 132 should also be contenders all season long. Page sees junior Jesse Vondell and freshman Frank Barnack, both at 126, as two of the up-and-coming wrestlers on his squad. Barnack is the coach’s nephew, and the family connections don’t end there as the head of the program welcomes a second son to the varsity mat with eighth grader Jacob Page competing at 99 pounds. Also at 99 will be fellow eighth grader Sawyer Overhoff.
“I see all of these kids who wrestle for me as having potential,” Page noted.
Just two seasons ago at this time, St. Francis walked into its own gymnasium at the Southtowns Duals with only eight wrestlers and finished winless in eight matches.
With a little retooling and the building of some depth, Red Raiders’ head coach Mike Messore was much happier to report a respectable 3-5 showing at this year’s competition, which puts St. Francis at 5-5 for the season.
Included among a healthy roster was Sam Carroccia, who finished unbeaten at 8-0 to make the all-tournament team at 220. Four other wrestlers finished .500 or better as well.
“That year we managed to finish 11-13 picking up any kids that we could from the hallway who weren’t already playing a sport in the winter,” sad Messore, the tournament director, who had nearly lost his voice by the competition’s end. “We started to rebuild last year (winning a Monsignor Martin tile) and we’re on our way now, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Also among St. Francis highlights were sophomore Jake Braunscheidel finishing 7-1 at 170 pounds and Mike Miller going 6-2 at 126 with both of his losses coming by criteria after going scoreless in overtime.
Sophomore Jim Canterbury finished 5-3, including notching a match-winning pin in the final weight class of a 39-33 victory over Orchard Park. Senior Dylan Sager was 4-4 at 195 and fellow upperclassman Mike Muffoletto, 3-5 at 152. Mike’s younger brother, freshman Matt Muffoletto, was also tough at 120.
Messore was impressed with the competition at the tournament and that a number of teams were able to knock one another off, highlighting a number of close matches. “It was very competitive and a lot of matches came down to certain match-ups,” Messore noted.
St. Francis ran away with wins to start the Monsignor Martin season, beating Gow, 73-12 and Niagara Catholic, 72-0.
In a match-up of All-Catholic champions from last season, Miller defeated Prince Futunmbi of Niagara Catholic 6-2 at 132. Both were CHSAA state place finishers as well. Down 6-0, Matt Muffoletto roared back to win a 10-7 decision, while freshman Jake Duggan (138), Sager, Canterbury and sophomore Travis Bittner (113) all pinned their Niagara Catholic opponents.
Against Gow, Carroccia won by pin, while senior John Makeyenko (145) earned a major decision victory and Sager won by decision. Miller, Braunscheidel and Bittner pinned their way to victory. Mike Muffoletto, Josh Fisher (285), freshman Mike Gruttolori (120) and junior Marco Gangarossa (182) all went 2-0 with forfeits.