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Hooley Leads Lumberjacks

Joe Hooley can’t help but smile because he is definitely in his element.

Hooley, after nine seasons as the coach of the North Tonawanda JV wrestling team, has now stepped into the role of the head varsity coach, replacing Dan Fire, who stepped down at the end of last season after six years as varsity coach.

“It just makes the transition real easy from Dan,” Hooley said. “Just roll right in. We’ve been working the same game plan together for the last six years. It doesn’t seem like much of a change for them, especially the veterans. Where as if I would have been a new guy coming in you have that lapse of connect. So the connection is still there.”

Fire has stayed on staff to work with the modified program.

While some programs have been struggling with numbers as of late, the Jacks are actually in the enviable position of seeing their numbers on the rise.

Leading the way for the NT grapplers this season will be seniors Nick Rosky (126 pounds), Jake Codelia at 120 and Veysal Muktasimov who will be a beast at 195 pounds.

Junior Jordan Holmes will give the Jacks a solid chance to grab points at 220 pounds. NT’s best hopes for sectional titles might very well lay on the shoulders of sophomore Tyler Bartolomei, who is among the top 99-pounders in Section VI. And junior Logan Kent who tips the scales at 152 pounds.

Kent said that having coach Hooley step into the role of head coach has been the perfect scenario for the program as the players know what Hooley is all about as a person and coach. Having that peace of mind of familiarity alleviates the stress of having to prove themselves to a new coach.

“It’s always good to be able to talk to Hooley,” Kent said. “If there is anything that’s going on with the team or going on with the guys I can talk to him. We have had that connection to where he has been my coach since I started in eighth grade. It’s really nice to just be able to talk to a familiar face.”

A change in the coaching ranks isn’t the only difference on the mat this year for the Lumberjacks as the team is now moving forward after the graduation of Troy Keller, the program’s all-time leader in wins, and Division I state runner-up at 145 pounds last season.

Feeling that they have what it takes to compete in the Niagara Frontier League, the Jacks have also circled Jan.10, 2017 on the calendar when they host rival Tonawanda. Taking a page out of the Clarence/Lancaster Border War rivalry, the Jacks and Warriors will compete for the newly created “TNT Championship Belt” that the winning team will take possession of for one year, then defend it next season.

“It increases it tenfold,” Kent said. “When you have something to prove your victory over someone else, personally, it gets me much more excited to go after it and show these guys what NT wrestling is all about.”

Hooley said having a championship belt as a trophy to battle for will give the kids something tangible to call their own in this battle of bragging rights. More than just a rivalry night, Hooley wants this to be a night to celebrate the history of both programs, so an alumni night where former wrestlers from both NT and THS will be recognized prior to the match.

“I think it’s great,” Hooley said. “I think it’s something good for both schools. It’s exciting….these guys are fired up for it. They want to win it. It’s a big rivalry.”

Taking part in the Sweet Home Tournament this weekend, the Jacks open the NFL portion of their schedule at home on Dec.7 against Niagara Wheatfield, 6pm.

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