Fredonia, Chautauqua Lake/Westfield/Panama ready for tournament in Falconer on Saturday

OBSERVER File Photos Pictured at left is the Chautauqua Lake/Westfield/Panama high school wrestling team. At right is the Fredonia wrestling team. Both teams will be in action Saturday when they take part in the Section VI Class C high school wrestling championships at Falconer Central School.

The Class C Sectional championships are slated for this Saturday with some of the top teams in Western New York converging at Falconer Central School.

Among the teams competing will be Falconer/Cassadaga Valley, Newfane, Fredonia, Akron, Chautauqua Lake, Barker/Royalton Hartland, Lackawanna, Eden and Tonawanda.

The Hillbillies enter the tournament limping with a few wrestlers who are possibly out due to injury.

Due to the unknown, Fredonia coach Joe Santilli is just hoping for the best.

“I am not expecting anything right now,” he said. “With a full line, I could see us battling for second position. Without some guys, we could fall as far as fourth or fifth. You don’t know until you go and compete.”

Santilli noted the strong teams which will be there, adding Chautauqua Lake has moved to Class C this year while power-house Falconer will likely be the top dog every team is trying to catch.

“It’s going to be a bit of a dog fight for that second-place position,” he said.

Fredonia’s Dalton Gardner looks to repeat as champion. His only loss in small school this season came to Maple Grove’s Shane Hetrick, who is at the Class D tournament this week. The two could possibly square off next weekend at Sectionals, if the stars align.

Meanwhile, Giovani Russo is looking to improve upon his second-place finish last season and sixth-place finish at Sectionals. He is in a tough division at 126.

“Giovani is at 126 and that division has a lot of depth,” Santilli said. “He has beaten a lot of guys and has quality wins. I like his chances. He definitely is a tough young man to wrestle.  I am excited to see where he is. He is excited about the challenge and has the right attitude at the right time.”

Meanwhile, Santilli also noted Hector Colom is a high seed in the tournament at 138.

“We are hoping he stays the course and stays solid,” Santilli said. “He has competition. It will be fun to see how that goes, as well. Hector has a vast amount of experience.”

Lucas Green took third place two years ago at the tournament and is looking to be in the top 4 this weekend to advance to Sectionals.

“He is wrestling far better,” Santilli said. “He is a completely different wrestler. At 138,  he is adapting to that weight and learning to wrestle that style. We will see how it goes.

“I am excited to watch our guys compete,” Santilli added. “Class C Tournament is notoriously deep. There is a lots of depth and talent. On paper, 120 and 145 are stacked with a lot of talent at the top.

Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds are coming off a 14-8 record in the regular season and coach Brad Rowe is interested to see how his team will do in Class C, as they have competed in both Class B and Class D the past few years.

“We won Class B a few years back,” Rowe said. “It would be great to see us come in and do something this weekend. “We went up to B when we combined the programs, then went to D. Now we are at C.  We are one of few teams in every Class. Class C definitely seems to be very a competitive one.”

When evaluating the talent of each team competing this weekend, Rowe knows his team will have to perform well.

“We wrestle in a very tough division,” he said. ” I think what we did in the regular season what we expected, even a bit more for the age of our team. We have Falconer, Olean, Gowanda and Fredonia. It’s a tough division. Coming in third, you always hope for more, but it was a good year. I think we have a lot of guys who can do well this weekend. You look at teams contending. Falconer is pretty amazing this year. Newfane and Fredonia are good. A lot of solid teams are coming to compete. I hope we represent ourselves well.”

While Chautauqua Lake was ranked fourth in Western New York this year, not one wrestler was ranked.

“It shows what a solid group we had,” Rowe said.

The Thunderbirds will be led by Austin Bourgeois, who was a runner up at Sectionals last year.

Meanwhile, Derek Ecklund missed the postseason the last two years and looks to shine this weekend.

Rowe also mentioned he is hoping to see a strong weekend from Ben Szymanowski.

“Last year was one of those years we peaked early and didn’t finish as strong as we hoped to,” Rowe said. “This year we seem to be in the right place. Last week we did well in the dual championships. Lots of guys stepped up and did well.”

With the start of the postseason, coaches and wrestlers realize a trip to Albany and the state championships is just three short weeks away.

“When we leave practice and it’s still light outside, it means two things,” Santilli continued. “1) It’s championship season and 2) we are near the end. There is an excitement.  I love this time. I also love the first three weeks of the season, too. All that work everyone has put in, this is where the profit is. Again, it will be who is ready for it and who is peaking. Trust their training and impose their will. I have seen some dark horses come out of the Class tournament and win Sectionals. If you put together a couple good weeks, it’s exciting. Everyone has a shot right now.”