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Even in rebuilding year, Lake Shore remains wrestling power

MATCHING UP — Hamburg’s Erik Sheffield (left) and Lake Shore’s Frank Gelster compete at 190 pounds. Photo courtesy of David Eckhardt.

Previewing also Hamburg, Frontier, St. Francis, Eden


Bills Sills Jr. said he thought his Lake Shore wrestling team could be going through a rebuild, last season.

A few months later, the Eagles were repeating as Erie County Interscholastic Conference Division II regular season champions, before winning a Class A sectional team title.

This season, the Lake Shore head coach said he believes there will be some rebuilding ahead, but if last season was any proof, it may not stop the team from remaining a contender in Western New York.

Lake Shore already went 7 – 1 at the Southtowns Duals on Dec. 5 – 6, finishing second to only WNY power Lewiston Porter.

“Last year, we thought we’d be rebuilding, but we had those four seniors come back to the program; but this year is rebuilding,” Sills said. “We’re not on the down slope, but we’ve got a lot of young guys.”

Leading the Eagles crew are defending sectional champion Luke Catalano, a senior at 220, Freddy Eckles, who will wrestle between 132 – 138 and David Killian, at 106. The coach said that all three are extremely tough and each finished unbeaten in the season-opening tournament at Saint Francis. Eckles was fourth in Section VI last season and Kilian was sixth.

Also returning to the lineup are senior Briar Dils at 195, junior four-year wrestler Antonia Pernia at 126 and senior Mike Hontz at 132. Dylan Murphy also gives Lake Shore another competitor, at 160. Dils was fourth and Murphy, sixth, last season in sectional wrestling. Brandon Joslyn (152) is also a sectional place-finisher returning.

“We’ve got some really good guys, in good places, but then we’re also very young,” Sills said. “We’ve got six or seven guys who can win matches [regularly].”

Lake Shore is giving up a few points, with several wrestlers’ suffering some injuries. Among them, Lawrence Jenkins has been out with a concussion. In five to six other weight classes, other youngsters are learning the ropes.

“We just want to wrestle hard; that’s the way we’ve done things: using hard work and grit,” Sills said. “We don’t have the same depth, but our expectation is to wrestle hard.”
STRONG LOCAL WRESTLERS — Eden’s Peter Schmitz, pictured on top, and Hamburg Dillon Knoll will be two of the stronger wrestlers in the area this season. Photo courtesy of David Eckhardt.

LOCKED — Lake Shore’s Dylan Murphy (left) and St. Francis’ Marco Gangorosa were locked in a battle. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.

Elsewhere, coming off a league championship and All-Catholics title, St. Francis is turning back into the power head coach Mike Messore said he hoped the program would once again become.

The Red Raiders also finished fourth at the CHSAA state tournament. With several wrestlers back and youngsters who already showed their mettle at the Southtowns Duals, he said he hopes to repeat last year’s feats, while moving up to the top three at states.

“Basically, we’re trying to re-establish the program to where it was in the early-2000s, as a perennially-ranked team in Western New York,” said Messore, whose team went 5 – 3 at the Southtowns Duals. “We’re taking steps. We’re young and we only lose one senior, after this year.”

That senior is Mike Miller, who Messore said will lead the squad as its only four-year wrestler. Miller already fared well at the host team’s competition and comes off a sixth place finish earned at state, last year.

Also participating in the Southtowns Duals were Jake Braunscheidel, who has also serving as a captain; Kyrill Calkins, a freshman newcomer at 106 and Jake Duggan, a sophomore at 145. Returning to the starting lineup are Matt Muffoletto at 132; Jim Canterbury, 160 and Marco Gangarossa, 170, all of whom Messore said are pitching in for St. Francis.

Messore has also added to the lineup freshman Matthew Heywood, at 99 pounds, 113-pounder Nick Ralph and 125-pounder Jasey Jakuczak. Each earned their first varsity pins in the Southtowns Duals.

Frontier has built up its numbers under second-year head coach Joe Russo, and will feature many seniors, who could help the team’s overall record look better than it has, in recent history.

Frontier is already reaping the benefits of having approximately 30 wrestlers’ putting up a 5 – 3 mark at the Southtowns Duals and defeating rival Hamburg to start the ECIC Division I dual meet season.

Among the 12 seniors are three-time defending sectional champion and state-qualifier Rocco Russo, who moved up to 145 pounds this season, along with Kyle Genovese at 126, Seth Jones (160), Jessie Harrison (138), Paul Hendra (126), Zack Reese (220), Joe Aronica (138-145) and Aaron Valachos (152-160).

Coach Joe Russo said he also expects contributions from some youngsters, as a pair of eighth graders will fill the light weight spots in the lineup. They include Mike Ventresca at 99 pounds and Connor Miller, 106.

“The past couple of years, we haven’t had a 99-pounder and someone at 106, so instead of us taking forfeits, for the most part, we have a full lineup,” Russo said. “We haven’t had that in years. And we’re winning more matches because of it.”

Russo said he had two wrestlers go to sectionals a few years back and three last season and he’d like to get four or five there this season.

Eden is in the opposite boat as Frontier, as it will field the smallest team Tom Page has coached during the past six seasons, but he added it is not short of hard-working, talented wrestlers.

With the light numbers and a few injuries early in the season, the Raiders are giving up several weight classes to forfeit, so their typical team success won’t be as strong this season.

Eden comes off of placing second in Class C at the sectional team competition. This season, the Raiders have five seniors and then everyone else is pretty young among the 20 on the team, so Page said there will be some growing pains.

“It’s very hard to come out with team victories but individually, I’m very happy with what the kids are doing,” he said. “They all starting to roll.”

Alex Smythe, a defending sectional champion, has moved up to 170. Page called Smythe’s ability and strength dominating. He can bump Smythe up to 182 and Page said the senior would still be a sectional contender.

Freshman Jacob Page was unbeaten at 113 at the Southtown Duals, as he follows in the footsteps of his older brother, Tom Page, who holds the school’s all-time record for wins and is now wrestling at American University.

“He’s wrestling tough,” his father said. “He’s a different kind of wrestler than his older bother, so it’s refreshing. The body type, style and personality are different, too.”

Sawyer Overhoff is up to 120, after placing last year at sectionals. He and Page wrestled at 99 last year. This year, Eden is without a 99-pounder. Junior Cole Simmons is on the cusp of a breakout year, said coach Tom Page, who called the 126-pounder one of the team’s best technicians. Senor Jessie Vondell is a potential sectional place finisher at 138 and sophomore Cole Overhoff (142) is probably the strongest wrestler on the team pound-for-pound next to Smythe, according to their coach.

Senior Peter Schmitz is solid with technique and a leader at 150, while Jonah Baldwin, who’s currently out with an injury, will be at 160. Jumping into the spot at 182 is sophomore Luke Podyma, while Gustavo Bautista-Gomez takes over at 220. Eden is without anyone at 195 and 285. Eighth grade newcomer Eric Shaffer takes over at 106, while senior Mitchell Laing and junior Tony Coppola will split time at 132.

Hamburg continues an attempt to build some strength in its varsity team, but again has a great deal of youth to bring along.

The Bulldogs do return Jacob Smeader, Dillon Knoll, Garrett Knoll, James Fisk, Dante Masterangelo and Erik Sheffield, all of who placed in Class A, last season.

The coach said that Smeader, also a sectional place-finisher, should be near the top of his weight class, at 120. If Dylan Knoll comes down to 138, he should be very strong, as well, come the postseason, Meyer said. Masterangelo will be at 145, Sheffield, 170, and Garrett Knoll and Fisk will look to do their damage in the heavyweight divisions. Another key wrestlers will be eighth grader Brian Hornstrom, who Meyer said has looked good at 99 pounds.

“It’s a young group and we’re just trying to develop some kids and get them to where they can be competitive,” said Meyer, whose team finished at 4 – 4 at the Southtown Duals. “We have high expectations for our returners and, as long as the young kids are learning, I have no complaints.”

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