The winter sports season is coming to a close and that means one thing - it's playoff time.
First up? Wrestling.
This weekend local squads, from large-school Class AA all the way down to small-school Class D, will be competing in the Class Championships, which is the first of three major tournaments (along with the Division I and II state qualifier, and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association State Wrestling Tournament) that make up high school wrestling's grueling postseason.
Dunkirk’s Billy Seiders (top) and the rest of the Section 6 wrestlers begin their quest for a state championship this weekend at the Class Championships.
Regardless of venue or class, each of the championships are slated to begin wrestling at 9 a.m., on Saturday, with the finals tentatively scheduled for 5:30 p.m..
Performing well in this tournament is crucial for all with sectional and state title aspirations, and, according to Fredonia wrestling coach Alex Conti, a good number from the area should find themselves on the podium on Saturday evening, having run the gauntlet and earned a trip to the state qualifier.
"I hope so anyway," he said. "I know we've got a good crew and I think there's quite a few kids from Chautauqua County that could qualify. I think we've got a lot of good chances at a lot of different weight classes. But you never know, you've got to be both good and a little bit lucky."
The Class AA tournament, in which Jamestown will be competing, will be held at Lockport High School. Jamestown, ranked No. 7 in the latest large school poll by the Wrestling Review of Western New York, finished the ECIC Division 1 in third place behind its 5-2 record.
Dunkirk, meanwhile, will be competing in the Class A tournament at Starpoint High School. The Marauders moved into Class A because they combined with Silver Creek at the beginning of this season.
Sectional qualifiers from those two tournaments will be competing in the Division I state qualifier at the University at Buffalo on Feb. 10.
In Class B, only Westfield-Ripley-Chautauqua Lake will be representing the area. The Class B Championships will be held at East Aurora High School.
Participating in that tournament will be quite the leap, especially considering that, had they not combined, the wrestlers on each individual squad would normally be taking part in the Class D Championship.
WRCL, ranked fourth amongst small schools, is ready for the jump in competition, however, says assistant coach Lee Gilmore. They even expect to win the tournament outright.
"We'll actually be the second-smallest school in Class B," he explained, "but I definitely think we're ready. Coach (Brad) Rowe, myself and the other coaches sat down recently and looked it over, and we think we've got a really good shot of winning it."
Four area squads will be vying for both individual and team success in the Class C Championship to be held at Eden High School.
Fredonia, the second-ranked small school, boasts six wrestlers who are ranked No. 1 in all of Western New York for their respective weight classes. They are Pat McCarthy (113 pounds), Dakota Gardner (126), Tyler Cassidy (132), Jude Gardner (145), Zach Buckley (170) and Chris Saden (220).
"We had a couple of guys (from the area) that graduated last year that were very good," Gilmore said, "but I think there are just as many up-and-coming kids this year. The Gardners from Fredonia, both will probably go to states and do exceptionally well and Pat McCarthy is very good also, so there's a lot of kids that could do very well."
Along with Fredonia is Southwestern, led by Ryan Hetrick, who ranked third at 99 pounds behind a nearly perfect 38-1 record this season, Cattaraugus-Little Valley/Pine Valley and Gowanda.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Class D Championship, which will be held at Portville High School. Headlining the 12-team tournament is Falconer, which recently captured its second consecutive Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 title by toppling rival Fredonia.
The Golden Falcons went a perfect 7-0 in league meets this season, and are currently the top-ranked small school in Western New York.
Also competing in Class D will be Division 3 champion Maple Grove, and Frewsburg, Cassadaga Valley, Panama, Randolph and Salamanca.
All of the small-school qualifiers will battle for a sectional title and a state tournament berth at the Division II state qualifier on Feb. 10 at the University at Buffalo.
And Conti is expecting big things the rest of the way.
"I went through and looked at the different weight classes and I really think that in every class we have someone that has the ability to get on the podium," he said. "I have some really high hopes for all the small schools in Section 6."