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ECIC II Wrestling Preview

The dominance of the Pioneer Panthers in ECIC competition over the last six years is past the point of noteworthy and beginning to make its way into the remarkable stage. The Panthers gutted out a tight one-point win on a cold night last January after nearly seeing their league win streak come to an end at the hands of the Iroquois Chiefs. Five teams made their ways into the final team rankings last winter in what proved to be a competitive league race in the middle of the standings, a positive sign for a handful of programs that were in need of rehabilitations. With the loss of Iroquois back down to ECIC III, new challengers will step in line to have a shot at Pioneer this winter for the outright league title, including East Aurora who moved back into ECIC II.

Pioneer Panthers

Head coach: Chris Edwards

2018-2019 results: 7-0 league record, 21-3 overall, ECIC Division II champion, #2 WNY Athletics final small school ranking, #16 New York State Sportswriters Association (NYSSWA) final small school ranking

Key losses: Mike Rigerman, Tyler Smith, Ather Phommatha

Key returners: Daniel Kirsch, Kameron Riordan, Xander Kirsch, Donald Bennett, Brady Heckathorn, Alex Miley, Josh Oun, Alex Schenk, Mitchell Landphair, Austin Noel

Thirteen Panther wrestlers placed at the Class B tournament on February 2nd, the most of any team at the class, but were slightly outpaced in team score by Iroquois. The Panthers earned the #2 seed for the Section VI Duals as well, which more than likely would’ve led to another clash with Iroquois and potentially Falconer in the final. Coach Edwards should get ten of those thirteen back this season led by returning section finalist Daniel Kirsch. Kirsch had an outstanding freshman year and carried himself and competed like a true Pioneer Panther wrestler. With only two seniors in the lineup from last season with postseason placements, these Panthers should be young but never taken lightly. Keep an eye on Pioneer’s early season dual meet tournament. Some of the best small schools and some powerful out of section talent descend on Yorkshire in what should be an action-packed weekend of wrestling. We’ll get a good snapshot of what this Panther team will be like very early in the season.

Starpoint Spartans

Head coach: Steve Hart

2018-2019 results: 4-2 league, 12-7 overall, ECIC II 3rd place, #10 WNY Athletics final large school ranking

Key losses: Sam Stoelting, Cameron Kneeppel

Key returners: Gage LaPlante, Chris Uptegrove, Derek Kneeppel, Dylan Lyness, Christian Lasher, Gavin Lyness, Jacob Eckler, Beckham Peehler, Keith Coleman, Gabe Lee, David Meyer

Coach Hart will no doubt have high expectations for his team going into this season. The Spartans will return nine Class A place winners not including a pair of ECIC tournament finalists in Gabe Lee and David Meyer in the upper weights, both of whom missed placing in the postseason. The confidence should be high in Pendleton as eleven of the fifteen weight classes should already feature a returning experienced wrestler. Six of them placed between 99 and 120-pounds at the Class A tournament last winter. However, the only returning state qualifier place winner is 8th grader Gage LaPlante. After a solid 7th grade year on varsity at 99-pounds and a busy offseason, LaPlante will be expected to anchor the bottom of the lineup. Keep an eye on Starpoint at the tough Tonawanda Duals early in the season and definitely on what should be an ECIC II showdown at Pioneer on Wednesday, January 22nd.

East Aurora Blue Devils

Head coach: Jeff Michel

2018-2019 results: 6-1 league, 18-8 overall, ECIC III 2nd place, #9 WNY Athletics final small school ranking

Key losses: Johnny Putney, Austin Sitarek

Key returners: Alex Skowronski, Nolan Skowronski, Matthew Skowronski, Joplin Hess, Christian Arriaga, Braden Prusak, Charlie Improta

Last season’s Devils were a pleasant surprise, winning eighteen dual meets, challenging for a league title, qualifying for the Section VI Duals, finishing in the top ten of the final WNY Athletics small school ranking, and placing a wrestler in the top three of the state. Johnny Putney set the Blue Devils’ all-time wins record a season ago and will be missed for his leadership as much as his wrestling ability. However, senior Alex Skowronski truly had a breakout season last year and won both the Class B and Section VI Division II 113-pound titles. Younger brother Nolan returns with a 3rd place finish in the Section as a freshman at 99-pounds. Overall, seven Class B placers should return for East Aurora with Alex Skowronski the only senior of the bunch. Another year of experience for this lineup after only losing two seniors points toward another promising year for the Blue Devils despite being placed back in the competitive ECIC II division.

Lake Shore Eagles

Head coach: Bill Sills

2018-2019 results: 3-2 league, 12-12 overall, ECIC II 4th place, #10 WNY Athletics final small school ranking

Key losses: Kyle Kilian, Luciano Sciarrino

Key returners: Julian Martin, Riley Sullivan, Blake Hageman

By the end of last season, the Eagles wrestled fourteen of their twenty-four duals against WNY Athletics ranked or honorable mention teams. A dual against #6 state ranked Spencerport (Section V) pushes that number to fifteen, meaning about 63% of Lake Shore’s opponents last year were above average, formidable squads. Given the schedule strength and improvement over the season, Coach Sills and his Eagles landed at #10 in the final small school ranking in WNY in 2018-2019 and earned an invite to the Section VI Duals. The Eagles lost strong middle weights in Kilian and Sciarrino to graduation, however defending Section VI Division II 126-pound champion Julian Martin will be back and be the piece that Sills can build around in the middle of the lineup. While only two other Class B place winners return, a very young group of wrestlers led by freshman Blake Hageman dotted the lineup last season, suggesting Lake Shore could surprise some people not expecting youthful talent in place of veteran experience.

Amherst Tigers

Head coach: Dennis Bauer

2019-2019 results: 2-4 league, 9-10 overall, ECIC II 5th place, Honorable Mention WNY Athletics final large school ranking

Key losses: Matt Mohan, Amandip Deo, Joe Scamurra, Raman Singh, Lenox Walker, Antoine Walker

Key returners: Riley Kirst, Hassan Dobbins, Ben Buscaglia, Jonah Christakis, Ben Levine, Ryan Bitka, Tyree Orange

Much like the 4th place team in the division, the 2018-2019 Tigers faced a plethora of some of the best teams in the section to start to the season. The expectations for that team were high, and as they’ll return seven Class A place finishers with three sectional places, those expectations should be high again. Where they will need the most help is in the lower half of the lineup now that both Lenox and Antoine Walker are gone. Talented 8th grader Riley Kirst and senior Hassan Dobbins should be key role players that anchor the Tigers at both ends from lower to middle weights, respectively. Class A champion and state tournament wildcard Ryan Bitka will be a force at heavy weight, anchoring an experienced group of upperclassmen in the upper weights, and the leader of this team all season.

Williamsville South Billies

Head coach: Chris Heximer

2018-2019 results: 2-4 league, 7-7 overall, ECIC II 6th place

Key losses: Rashad Ahmad

Key returners: Bradley Evelt, Luqman Ahmad, John Maher, Jonathan Clifford, Ethan Tong, Hudson Denz, Jaden Friel

The Billies showed a lot of toughness in lieu of experience in 2018-2019 after having earned an invitation to the Section VI Duals the previous season. In their early season matches, Coach Heximer was able to weigh in a full lineup. Only on a few occasions later in the winter did South forfeit up to two weights in some duals. After losing only one Class A placer to graduation, five class placers should return with a lineup weighed heavily with juniors. Should the 2019-2020 Billies put it all together, they could surprise a few teams and earn another invite back to the Duals after missing last season.

Alden/Depew Bulldogs

Head coach: Bill Kissell

2018-2019 results: 1-5 league, 5-9 overall, ECIC II 7th place

Key losses: Jordan Alonso, Magd Asbtani

Key returners: Carson Alberti, Michael Alberti, Kenny Pitts, Sam Grant, Cole Kissell

Despite a limited lineup, the 2018-2019 Depew/Cleveland Hill team gave a number of team fits and wrestled hard regardless. The squad crowned a Section VI Division I champion in Carson Alberti and placed five other wrestlers at the Class A tournament, two of whom graduated. Alden returns only one Class C/D place winner in Cole Kissell.

The newly combined team comes out of a breakup of Depew and Cleveland Hill. Alden hosted their own team again last season after a partnership with Akron two years ago, but unfortunately struggled with numbers. Hopefully a successful partnership will emerge between Depew and Alden where both programs undergo a positive rehabilitation. Alden will be the host team in the partnership this year. And, according to first year head coach Bill Kissell, the signups (at least on the Alden side) are trending in the right direction. Keep in mind the district cut the Bulldog modified program last year and doesn’t plan to reinstate it for 2019-2020.

Sweet Home Panthers

Head coach: Don Lilly

2018-2019 results: 0-7 league, 0-16 overall, ECIC II 8th place

Key losses: Will Eaton

Key returners: Sammy Esaleh, Colin Tondreau, Axel Andrews, Yahya Esaleh

Last year’s results aren’t what Coach Lilly wanted for the Panthers, however the only way to go for Sweet Home is up. Seniors Sammy Esaleh and Axel Andrews both had strong finishes at the end of last season as Esaleh made his way into the Class A final while Andrews placed 3rd. A week later both placed at the sectional tournament. Even if Sweet Home undergoes another rebuilding year, keep an eye on these two wrestlers and the challenging schedule that Lilly puts together for his team. The Joe Shifflet Sweet Home Duals has been an exciting opening weekend event in each of the last few seasons, always featuring a handful of ranked team clashes.

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