ECIC II was reorganized this offseason with an emphasis on strengthening the division. Considering the re-addition of Alden into the ECIC after teaming up with Akron last season and the total domination Pioneer has had in ECIC III for the past three years, wrestling leadership considered a big change.
Pioneer has been moved back to ECIC II for the 2018-2019 season and possibly longer, totally changing the league’s competitive landscape. Initially, the league was designed to have nine teams while ECIC I and III would have eight apiece. However, the unexpected merger of West Seneca East with West drops the ECIC II team count to an even eight.
Pioneer should be an immediate challenge for the defending league champion and the rest of the division. Pioneer will host Iroquois in league action for the first time since the 2014-2015 season on Wednesday, January 23rd. Either of the two squads should be the favorite to capture the Class B crown as well. To make things more interesting, Pioneer defeated Iroquois in the consolation match at last season’s Division II dual meet tournament. Keep a close eye on this season-long rivalry. Amherst could be a threat to crash the ECIC II party.
Iroquois Chiefs – Class B
2017-2018 resume: 1st place ECIC II (7-0 in league), 2nd place ECIC tournament, Section VI Class B champion, 4th place Section VI Div. II Duals, NYSSWA Honorable Mention
The defending league and Class B champions will be geared to do what they do best again in 2018. Head coach Troy Almeter’s Chiefs squad is still loaded with talent after losing four Class B place winners to graduation. Two-time defending sectional champion and state place winner Cory Day will try to win his third Section VI crown and make a final run at a state title. Fellow senior Jacob Vergien earned a trip to Albany as wildcard after placing 3rd in the section in the loaded 132-pound bracket. There’s no doubt Vergien will be hungry for a sectional championship of his own. You’d be hard pressed to find a better middleweight duo in the section.
In addition to Day and Vergien, four Chiefs with 2nd place finishes in Class B return along with four more who were entered but didn’t place. Those four returning place winners all placed at the state qualifier as well.
Pioneer Panthers – Class B
2017-2018 resume: 1st place ECIC III (7-0 league), 2nd place Class B tournament, 3rd place Section VI Div. II Duals, NYSSWA #20 ranked small school
Pioneer has dominated the last five years of league action. They currently carry a 37-0 league record spanning five years with two ECIC II titles and three in ECIC III. Head coach Chris Edwards and the Panthers find themselves in a new, more competitive league in 2018 that features more Class A schools than B’s.
Defending Section VI champion Mike Rigerman took 4th in the state at 220-pounds as a junior. After an outstanding season on the gridiron, Rigerman will be an early season favorite to win a state championship in Albany next February.
Rigerman is the leader of a group of eight wrestlers that placed in Class B who return to the lineup. Four Panthers have state qualifier placements. And, out of these eight returners, four are seniors. Pioneer will feature postseason experience in over half of the lineup.
Amherst Tigers – Class A
2017-2018 resume: tied for 3rd place ECIC II (4-3 league), 3rd place Class A tournament
The Tigers finished strong in 2018 motivated by the sectional title run of graduated senior Calik Kennedy. Three seniors with sectional place finishes have graduated, however eleven wrestlers with Class A place finishes led by junior Ryan Bitka, a 3rd place finisher at the state qualifier, return for head coach Dennis Bauer. With the addition of Pioneer into the league mix the early season favorites (Iroquois, Pioneer, and Amherst) could be the best top-three teams in any given league in the section. Oh, and two former students by the names of Antoine and Lenox Walker return to Amherst this season as well. The Tigers will look to spoil things for the league, class, and Duals favorites
Lake Shore Eagles – Class B
2018-2019 resume: tied for 3rd place ECIC II (4-3 league), 9th place Class B tournament
Head coach Bill Sills may set a record for sophomores on one wrestling team. Seven sophomores who wrestled in Class B as freshmen return for the Eagles. Three of them placed, including sectional finalist Julian Martin at 113-pounds. By the way, these sophomores were all between 99 and 145-pounds as freshmen. Senior Kyle Killian should set the pace for the Eagles in the middle of the lineup. Three more senior Eagles return covering 152 to 182-pounds. Only one Class B and sectional place winner has graduated. This young Lake Shore team may have the potential to make some noise this season, and seasons to come.
Starpoint Spartans – Class A
2017-2018 resume: tied 3rd place ECIC II (4-3 league), 5th place Class B tournament
Starpoint moves back into large schools in 2018-2019 as the smallest of the Class A schools.
Possibly the biggest moment in program history happened last year when Anthony Robinson became Starpoint’s firs ever NYS Champion at 285-pounds. Head coach Steve Hart’s Spartans won the league two seasons ago. Three seniors with top three place finishes at Class B a year ago are gone.
Senior Sam Stoelting will lead a Spartans team that returns five total Class B place winners. Stoelting was 5th at 126-pounds in Section VI Div. II. The addition of the young Gage LaPlante should help bolster the lower weights. A return to the Dual Meet Championship would be huge for the 2018-2019 Spartans.
Williamsville South Billies – Class A
2017-2018 resume: 2nd place ECIC II (6-1 league), 5th place Class A tournament, Section VI Div. I Dual Meet tournament participant, NYSSWA Honorable Mention
The Billies graduated six seniors with Class A place finishes, three of which placed at the state qualifier. The departed seniors were a big part of the 2016-2017 Class A championship for the Billies.
Head coach Chris Heximer will need his young squad to fill some big roles in the lineup. Six returners have class tournament place finishes from a year ago.
Depew/Cleveland Hill Wildcats – Class A
2017-2018 resume: 5th place ECIC II (1-6 league), 10th place Class B tournament
The bright spot for head coach Mike LoBuzzetta’s Wildcats a season ago were the individual successes of brothers Carson and Michael Alberti. Carson, a freshman, and Michael, a junior, are both defending Class B champions. Carson was a sectional finalist as a 7th grader in 2016-2017. He took 5th in Section VI last season at 99-pounds. Michael was the 5th place finisher in the 106-pound bracket last year. One other class place finisher returns this season.
Due to the new statewide BEDS classification rules, Depew/Cleveland Hill moves into Class A with a combined BEDS number of 737. Since merging, the combined team has competed in Class B.
Sweet Home Panthers – Class A
2017-2018 resume: 6th place ECIC II (2-5 league), 10th place Class A tournament
Sweet Home graduated five seniors with post-season experience in 2018. The Panthers will need to reload with young and even first year athletes.
However, head coach Don Lilly returns standout sophomore Harith Alkalahf. Alkalahf stormed to a 4th place finish in the Division I state qualifier after placing 4th in the Class A tournament. Only three Panthers who competed in Class A a year ago were underclassmen.