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Three Section VI wrestlers claim state titles

Three area wrestlers claimed New York State individual titles at the NYSPHSAA championships in Albany. Niagara Falls’ Willie McDougald won the Division 1 (large school) 132-pound title, Chautauqua Lake’s Bryce Rowe won the Division 2 (small school) 160-pound title, and Starpoint’s Anthony Robinson was the Division 2 champion at 285-pounds.

McDougald was the tournament’s No. 2 seed and #2 ranked large school wrestler at 132-pounds since the preseason.

Returning NYS champion Justin Vines from Wantagh (Sec. VIII) was the No. 1 and the only wrestler ranked ahead of McDougald all season. The two have met twice in the last year. In the 2017 state championship quarterfinals Vines was a winner by a 9-6 decision and at this year’s Eastern States the Wolverine grappler lost to the defending champ again, 4-3. A highly anticipated McDougald/Vines rematch has been on a collision course all season, and the state final was where they would finally meet.

Back in January, McDougald suffered an injury that sidelined him for a few weeks. He clearly would’ve been the No. 1 seed for both the Section VI Class AA and state qualifier tournaments despite the injury, so he received a medical hardship directly into the qualifier, bypassing the Class tournament.

“I worked as hard on the mat as I do off the mat, so I did what I had to do to get my shoulder right,” McDougald said. “I was icing every day, working out, getting it stronger, and now I’m back and better than ever.”

The sophomore started fast in the opening round with tech fall win, 17-1. In the quarterfinals, McDougald defeated the No. 7 seed, 5-2. In the semifinal, he met Ward Melville’s (XI) Rafael Lievano. Lievano defeated McDougald in the fifth-place match at Eastern States, 6-4. McDougald would survive a late third period scramble in the rematch to win by decision 9-6 and secure a spot in the state final.

After a scoreless first period in the state final against Vines, McDougald chose to start bottom in the second. After getting out in the first minute the score read 1-0 McDougald. A lot of action led to many out of bounds restarts, including a toe-dragging ‘almost’ takedown that went out of bounds. In the third period, Vines was able to escape after what looked like McDougald would hold him down for the entire period to make the score 1-1 to end the third period.

After a scoreless first OT period, Vines selected bottom and escaped to make the score 2-1. Despite the lead, McDougald had a chance in the next 30 second OT period and took bottom. With time ticking down McDougald was able to get to a position of facing Vines, without quite being out, where Vines committed a body lock good for 1 point for McDougald and a tie match 2-2. Time continued, since McDougald was in a position to get free already, and was able to escape with less than 10-seconds left for a 3-2 lead and ultimately win the match in OT.

A calm, cool, and relaxed McDougald said after the match “I feel great. I worked pretty hard coming in here, so I knew if I did what I had to I would walk away a state champ.”

This was the sophomore’s third trip to the state tournament already, coming off of a sixth-place finish a year ago. McDougald is Niagara Falls’ first state champion since Mel Cunningham in 1967 and Section VI Division 1’s first since Jimmy Kloc from Iroquois won in 2012.

Chautauqua Lake’s Bryce Rowe didn’t win a Section VI title; he was a finalist in 2016 as well as 2017. The senior from Ripley, and another in a long line of Rowe grapplers received a wildcard into the state tournament and the No. 3 in the Division 2 160-pound bracket for his first career trip to Albany. Rowe entered the state tournament with a 40-3 record, with all 3 losses to the same individual: Falconer’s two-time sectional champion and defending state place winner Dan Torres. Torres held the season head to head record, 3-1 and was the No. 2 seed in the state 160-pound bracket.

Rowe cruised through the first two rounds winning by major decision in each bout. The season-long rivalry with Torres came to a dramatic finish in the state semifinal. The match would go down to the wire in four overtimes, where Rowe was able to escape with a 4-3 victory to secure a spot in the state final after being down 3-2 at the start of the third period.

In the final, Rowe met the top seed in Saranac (VII) junior and top seed Jacob Nolan. Nolan, out of the very tough Champlain Valley Athletic Conference, was a fourth-place finisher in Albany last year.

After trailing 1-0 to end the second period, the Thunderbird senior went underneath to start the third. Nolan was well in control and clinging to the lead when Rowe was finally able to score a reversal and a 2-1 lead. The two went out of bounds with less than thirty seconds left and went to the restart. Nolan was within reach of scoring a reversal with 10 seconds left. Rowe was hanging on for dear life with his own back exposed but not got giving up near fall points since he was still in control and literally clung to Nolan as time expired to win the state championship.

After the match Rowe stated, “I just knew I had to keep my head on straight and I had nothing to lose. Everyone here is good and I just had to wrestle head on straight.”

Rowe is the first ever state champion for Chautauqua Lake, and the second ever champion to represent Ripley. Rowe’s uncle and Chautauqua Lake head coach Brad Rowe was a state champion in 1996. Despite the combination of three schools (Chautauqua Lake, Westfield, and Panama) representing a handful of towns, like Ripley, the Thunderbirds wrestle in Class D, the smallest of the five wrestling classifications, and hold on to a wrestling tradition where in many other programs of similar size wrestling is losing steam or being cut entirely.

“It feels good to live up to the legacy,” said Rowe about his state title after reflecting on the history and tradition of the program and name he represents.

In the last match of the tournament, top-seeded Anthony Robinson came up big in the final match to become the program’s first ever state champion.

Out of the 52 total Section VI wrestlers in Albany, Robinson was the only top-seeded athlete. The Spartan senior won the Section VI championship in a deep 285-pound weight class that brought two additional wrestlers to Albany.

A year ago, Robinson’s season came to a bitter end after losing the state qualifier semifinals and suffering a back injury that required off-season maintenance before the football season.

“That was a major setback. I went to physical therapy for a while and there were times when I thought ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be able to wrestle next year’,” said Robinson on last year’s injury. “PT, family, and friends supported me and pushed me and I trained even harder.”

Robinson’s first two matches ended in decisions. He found himself in the semifinal on Saturday morning wrestling Section III champion Nate Briggs from Onondaga/Tully. Briggs, by all accounts, held the size advantage, but Robinson used his athleticism and explosiveness off the bottom to move on to the evening final, gutting out a 4-3 victory in the ultimate overtime tiebreaker against Briggs.

In the state final, Robinson’s opponent would be the No. 2 seed Jayson Gomez from Eagle Academy-Bronx (PSAL). Gomez was one win from placing in Albany in 2017.

It was evident right from the start of the match that both wrestlers were of very similar athletic ability. Gomez shot a single leg that was in deep enough to lift Robinson off the ground and return him for the 2-point takedown. Robinson’s best position is arguably bottom, but he had trouble against the good spiral ride from Gomez. With less than 30 seconds left in the first period, Robinson hit a reversal to put Gomez into near fall criteria. After trailing 2-0 with 30 seconds left Robinson now led 4-2.

With the lead in the second period, Robinson went down with the choice. After getting to his feet Gomez once again returned Robinson with very good waist control to spiral ride on the mat. Finally, halfway through the second period Robinson would escape to push the score to 5-2 and eventually end the period.

Gomez chose neutral in the third period and secured a takedown less than 20 seconds into the period. With a sense of urgency to score and keeping in mind the first period reversal Gomez let Robinson up to make the score 6-4. At this point, Robinson needed to play a lot of defense with a lot of time left. However, he was warned for stalling with 40 seconds left and dinged again with nine seconds left to give Gomez a penalty point, making the score 6-5. In a last-ditch effort for a takedown, Gomez shot in but it was well defended with double underhooks as Robinson would hold on to win 6-5.

Robinson would end up being Starpoint’s first state champion. “It feels great. They made me the 1-seed so I just wanted to come out here and prove why I was the one seed.”

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