State champion Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer, currently ranked #5 in the nation at 138 pounds by Flowrestling (and #8 by Intermat), will look for a second-straight NYS crown to end his high school career. He is among the many state placers returning in Section 6 this year. Here's a look at some of the wrestlers and teams to watch in 2013-14.
Two finalists and two other fifth place finishers that represented Section 6 in the Division I tournament in Albany last year graduated. But there will certainly be contenders for podium slots at the Times Union Center this year, including Anthony Orefice of Lockport, who will likely be at 126.
A two-time state placer, Orefice began last season at 113 where he registered some quality wins, including a 7-1 decision over Dillon Stowell, the eventual Division II NYS champion. He later transitioned up to 120 pounds, where he once again qualified for the state tournament but went 1-2. (Three of his six losses came to New York silver medalist Steve Michel). Will Orefice return to All-State status as a junior after fourth and fifth place finishes earlier in his career?
Seniors to Watch
Orefice has made several trips to the state capital, as has Frontier’s Rocco Russo, a three-time qualifier. Russo, a future member of the Buffalo Bulls and the all-time wins leader at his school, won 50 matches in 2013-14 at 126 pounds and will look to pick up his first state medal (likely at 145 pounds) before leaving for the MAC conference.
Jake Weber of Clarence went 45-3 with 33 pins as a junior at 160 pounds. He had a tough road in Albany after his opening round pin, as his losses were to the first and third place finishers. A few weeks later, Weber was chosen for the Long Island vs. Upstate Challenge and competed in offseason events such as the Super 32 Challenge, in which he advanced from day one into the final 16 at 170 pounds. Weber qualified for the state tournament in 2012 and 2013 and has earned All-America honors at the NHSCA Nationals. Will 2014 bring a trip to the medal stand?
“[Weber] had a great year,” said Keith Maute, Owner/Operator of the Buffalo Wrestling Club and head coach at Niagara County Community College. “His only losses were to the wrestlers who finished first, second and third in the state [Tyler Grimaldi, Steve Schneider and James Marquez]. It would be surprising if he didn’t place and I expect him to be high on the podium.”
Also at the Super 32 in North Carolina was West Seneca East’s Danny Graham at 138 pounds. Graham rolled through the regular season last year with a perfect 37-0 mark before losing his bouts in Albany. He hopes to have another shot to get his hand raised this time around.
“I think he’ll be back at 138 again and he should be on the podium this year,” Maute said.
Three other members of the Class of 2014 took the mat at the Times Union Center for Section 6 last February. Andrew Paulsen of Iroquois wrestled at 170 pounds, but could move down as low as 152 this season, according to Maute.
Meanwhile, Lancaster’s James Empfield competed in the state capital at 195 and Lockport’s Marshall Taylor made an impact at 220 pounds, picking up a pair of wins and coming within one round of making All-State.
“[Marshall Taylor] was very good all year long,” Maute said. “For some people, [James Empfield] kind of came out of nowhere, but he’s a really athletic kid with good size for the weight class. I think he’ll do very well again.”
Who Else is Ready to Make an Impact?
Earning valuable experience at the Times Union Center in 2013 were a number of grapplers, including Niagara Wheatfield’s Shane Helbig, a qualifier as a freshman at 113 as well as a trio of juniors – Clarence teammates Ryan Burns and Nate Schwab and Donny McCoy of Niagara Falls. Burns, who will likely be at 113 according to Maute, has put in the time in the offseason, competing at numerous challenging events. Schwab had more than 40 wins as a sophomore and hopes to improve upon a season in which he won his opener in Albany before dropping an overtime decision to eventual fifth placer Dan DeCarlo. McCoy also won his first match in Albany before facing a pair of All-Staters in his last two bouts there.
McCoy and Burns will be joined in the lightweights by a number of other quality competitors who will look to break through to the state’s biggest tournament in 2014. Tristan Almeter of Iroquois and Anthony Argentieri of Kenmore West both were second in the Section last year, at 99 and 106, respectively. Argentieri competed at the Super 32 Challenge and earned All-America honors at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach.
Also nabbing a spot on the medal stand at the NHSCAs was Lake Shore’s Freddy Eckles, who comes off a season in which he recorded over 45 victories. He appears to be ready for a breakout year, either at 126 or 132.
“Freddy made a lot of strides this offseason and he’s really, really tough,” Maute said. “He will surprise some people.”
If Eckles is at 132, he could face Matt Kloc of Iroquois, who was injured late last year and didn’t compete at the Sectional tournament. Kloc did, however, finish third at the state qualifier the previous year and is ready for his chance to compete in the postseason again.
Who are some others to keep tabs on? Jevon Flynn of Niagara Falls racked up close to 25 wins and was the runner up in the Section tournament at 220 pounds, after spending much of the season at 195. He lost twice to Marshall Taylor in February. We’ll see if they meet up again. At heavyweight, two of the top contenders are Luke Catalano of Lake Shore and Marcellus Hinton of Lockport. And speaking of Lockport, Kirk Feeney grabbed second at 138 at the state qualifier as part of a 30+ win campaign.
Clarence returns a trio of Sectional champions – the previously mentioned Jake Weber, Nate Schwab and Ryan Burns. All three racked up big win totals, as did 99-pounder Dylan Arena, who compiled more than 40 victories a year ago. Despite the losses of Brandon Glaubner and Nate Ward, the Red Devils should score significant tournament points once again in 2014.
“I think Clarence is the top DI team, both in the dual and tournament formats,” Maute said.
Lockport also has some heavy hitters, with the aforementioned Anthony Orefice, Marshall Taylor, Kirk Feeney and Marcellus Hinton leading the way.
What other teams will step up to challenge? We’ll find out soon enough.
Section 6 was just five points behind Section 5 in the final Division II standings in Albany, boosted by double-digit wrestlers who finished in the top four in New York. Seven of those grapplers return, giving the Section a very strong foundation for another run.
Renaldo Rodriguez-Spencer of Cheektowaga, a two-time NYS finalist and the 2013 132-pound champion, will lead the way. After picking up state gold for the first time as a junior, he went on to capture a national title at the NHSCA Nationals in Virginia Beach with a victory over highly-ranked Alfred Bannister of Maryland. The future Iowa State Cyclone looks to cap off a stellar career with another trip to the top of the podium, likely at 138 pounds.
Two of the top sophomores in New York, Dakota Gardner of Fredonia and Kellen Devlin of Amherst, stood out at the state tournament with Gardner, already a two-time NYS placer, going all the way to the finals before dropping a decision to William Koll of Lansing. Devlin earned third with four bonus point wins in the state capital. His only setback was against eventual champion Trey Aslanian by one point in a match that Devlin led much of the way. Both will move up in weight, with 138/145 possible for Gardner and Devlin likely at 126, according to Maute.
In addition to Devlin, who are the other returning bronze medalists? Southwestern’s Ryan Hetrick, Maple Grove’s Brad Bihler and Eden’s Alex Smythe.
Hetrick’s path at 99 pounds was anything but easy. He endured three overtime matches and notched victories over a 2012 placer (Andrew Flanagan) and the bracket’s top seed (Hunter Olena) along the way.
Bihler racked up a technical fall, a major, a pin and a 7-0 shutout during his road to third at 106, while the Buffalo-bound Smythe recorded All-State honors for the second time in his career, defeating the fourth seed, Tyler Spann, twice at 152.
Ryan Kromer of Lewiston Porter was fourth at 132 pounds after winning three straight in the consolations. Kromer, who was second in the Section behind Rodriguez-Spencer, had 48 wins (25 by fall) last season.
“Kromer got a lot bigger and could go up to 152 or 160,” Maute said. “He’s looking very good.”
Yet another Lew Port grappler, Andrew Shomers, came out on top in his first bout at the Times Union Center at 113, before facing the second and sixth place finishers. He’ll be back looking for more, as will the wrestler who took second at the Section 6 championships at that weight - Andrew Marra of Olean, a 2012 All-Stater who came within one win of making the podium again.
While Marra received a ticket to the state tournament after a silver medal at the state qualifier, Cameron Swick of Royalton Hartland (106), Abdul-Fatah Alshawai of Lackawanna and Brian Westerdahl of Southwestern did not. However, watch out for them this year (Swick went 25-5, Alshawai was 42-4 and Westerdahl was 41-5 in 2012-13).
Westerdahl beat Ed Hutschenreuter three times a year ago. However, the Alden grappler is one to watch as he is a two-time state qualifier who won a match in Albany in both 2010 and 2011 before an injury cut his campaign short in 2012.
We haven’t forgotten about Cody McGregor of Tonawanda, who is already a two-time state placer, although he didn’t wrestle in Albany in 2013. He recently took the mat at the Super 32 Challenge, picking up four victories at 132 pounds against tough opposition from around the country. Is another trip to Albany in store?
“Last year’s 132-pound bracket was really tough,” Maute said. “There were four guys there who were All-State before and [McGregor] was the one that didn’t make it to the state tournament. The three guys that finished ahead of him [Rodriguez-Spencer, Kromer and Fredonia's Tyler Cassidy] all went to Albany and all placed. Cody was right there with them. He’ll be back and ready to go.”
Like McGregor, Austin Acquard didn’t compete in the state capital last season despite having done so in the past. Wrestling for Iroquois, Acquard had over 35 victories in the brutal 120-pound class in Division I that featured state runner up Steve Michel, multi-time placer Anthony Orefice and Lake Shore’s NHSCA All-American Freddy Eckles, among others. Now competing for Pioneer, Acquard will look to represent Section 6 in the small school event, likely at 126 pounds.
Acquard isn't the only one transitioning from DI to DII this season. According to Maute, Dunkirk will be changing divisions and as a result, the small school competition now will have to think about Hector and Tito Colom. As a seventh grader, Hector had a 37-5 mark as of early February with a win over state qualifier Kyle Blake. Tito Colom, now a sophomore, had a similarly successful year, with 35 wins, including three over Division II state third placer Brad Bihler of Maple Grove. Both were completely dominant in winning their brackets at the Journeymen Classic in September. Hector also added a third place showing at the Super 32 Middle School tournament at 100 pounds earlier this fall and a silver medal at the Suplay Kickoff Classic in Oklahoma last weekend.
While we’re talking about Dunkirk, keep an eye on freshman Nick Jones and Marquis Buchanan.
“Nick Jones could win the Section at heavyweight as a ninth grader,” Maute said. “Garrett Rath from Lew Port may be the favorite, but Jones beat him twice this summer. He won more than 20 matches as an eighth grader at 285, which is pretty good, and he’s improved and bigger, so he’s definitely in the mix. Buchanan started wrestling in 10th grade, so he was behind, but he put in a lot of work. He probably wrestled 75 matches this offseason. He got much more experience and has closed the gap and could do good things.”
Lewiston Porter has the ability to compile significant points in the Section 6 tournament, led by wrestlers who notched more than 40 victories in 2012-13 -- Ryan Kromer, DJ Marshall and Andrew Shomers. In addition, Garrett Rath will certainly rack up wins at the heavyweight spot.
Falconer lost state placer Brandon Muntz and qualifier Kyle Blake, but the squad brings back wrestlers like Jake Penhollow, Kyle Ross and Jacob Peru as well as several others who had more than 25 victories in 2012-13.
“Falconer is always a really good dual meet team,” Maute said. “They may not have a lot of stars, but every guy they have is a good, solid wrestler. They usually have lots of guys who win 20 or more matches. I think they’ll be in the mix again this year.”
Fredonia graduated a ton of talent with wrestlers like Zach Buckley, Jude Gardner, Tyler Cassidy, Pat McCarthy and Chris Saden finishing their careers. However, Dakota Gardner is back and will lead the way, along with wrestlers like 26-match winner Julius Woma.
Thank you to the contributors to this article, especially Keith Maute.
For more 2013-14 Section previews, see the links below: