The 2019-20 high school wrestling scene is taking shape for sure, and a few of our Niagara-Orleans schools are right in the middle of it.
We saw how strongly Newfane performed in the Linda C. Knuutila Memorial Wrestling Tournament, winning the event as a team led by a championship win for Andy Lucinski at 113 pounds, second-place finishes for Aidan Gillings (99 pounds), Nik Voelker (138) and Jaden Heers (285), as well as respective third- and fourth-place finishes for Ryan Nugent (145) and Phil Stevenson (152).
Let's take a look outside the Niagara Frontier League, where plenty programs and individuals are getting into the meat of their seasons:
Three state reps return for the Panthers, with Heers, Lucinski and Nugent all back in the fold. Three more N-O champs — Stevenson, Adam Huntington and Voelker — join them. That strong group will be responsible for defending the N-O crown and extending a 33-dual win streak in league action.
Head coach Matt Lingle is looking for Gillings and Ayden Buttery to be a rising stars making waves at 99. Lingle's son, Simon, is also expected to make an impact this season in the 170-pound division. Xavier Thomas should jump between 160 and 170 pounds. Miguel Salas will also be a name to watch in the 126-pound bracket.
With WNY Athletics' No. 1-ranked small in Falconer lurking in the shadows, Lingle is hoping his No. 4 Panthers can challenge for a Section VI crown as the dual team championship approaches.
As winter break has arrived, Newfane was 14-3 overall on the season with a 3-0 mark in league action.
Head coach Matt McCauley will look to a first-year varsity wrestler in Gavin Ciarfella, who won multiple youth state wrestling tournaments in recent years. Ciarfella, competing in his freshman season, got off to a hot start by winning 15 of his first 16 matches this season.
Brett Ricker is looking to return from an injury-plagued freshman season, and so far he's done just that, posting a 14-2 mark with both losses coming to the top-ranked 113-pounders in Section VI.
With the Rams only having two seniors on the roster, McCauley has a young group this season, which means he'll need Ciarfella and Ricker to step up as team leaders. McCauley is hopeful for a bright future, with more numbers than in years past and the team already compiling a 5-12 standing after a 1-12 season last winter.
The Lakemen are led by head coach Mike Carlo, who believes this year's group will be guided by three top guys; Allan Schultz (132), Luke Atlas (120), and Trent Kenny (160/170). Schultz and Kenny both notched bracket wins in the Fred Large Memorial Wrestling Tournament, while Atlas came in third in his weight class. Kenny is a returning league champ, and Atlas and Schultz are looking to join him in those ranks after second-place results in last year's N-O championships.
Carlo knows his team will be disadvantage with giving up forfeits in most duals, so his goal is to ensure his team remains highly competitive.
Up-and-comers to be alerted to include seventh-graders Jacob Stephenson and Hamza Merrick, who make the transition to varsity after standout youth wrestling careers. Stephenson will flow between 106 and 113, while Merrick competes at 182.
Fighting off an 0-3 overall and league record, Carlo's biggest goal is to push Schultz, Atlas and Kenny to league champion status by season's end.
Head coach Steve Hart has the Spartans currently ranked as WNY Athletics' No. 8 large school program in Section VI. Starpoint is 11-4 in dual meet competition and sits atop the ECIC II standings at 3-0.
Hart does expect his team to compete for the league title, qualify for the dual meet championships and have multiple sectional place finishers. One of his top guys to look out for is 106-pounder Gage LaPlante, who sits at 14-0 this year and finished second in last season's Section VI Class A championship as a seventh grader. In hopes of winning Section VI this season, LaPlante plans to drop to 99 pounds after winter break.
Jacob Eckler, who also finished second at sectionals, looks to improve on his 13-2 record from 132 pounds after dropping down to 126. Heavyweight David Meyer has started out his senior season to a tune of 8-3 at 285.
Hart also said to keep an eye out for brothers Gavin and Dylan Lyness (120), as well as Christian Lasher (126), all of whom he can see placing at the Section VI meet.
Make sure to keep an eye out for the Crusaders and junior Joseph "JoJo" Dixon, who transferred over from Niagara Falls after a strong tenure with the Wolverines. Dixon is a talented 160-170 pounder that was able to take 160 at last season's Class AA meet, as well as third in the Section VI Division I championships.
Antwain Gandy Bienavides is also wrestling for Canisius, as the fellow Niagara Falls native tries his hand at the sport in the 132-138 divisions.
For more from sports reporter Khari Demos, follow him on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, tune in to Khari as a guest on Tony Caligiuri's 'Inside High School Sports,' 10 a.m. Saturdays on WGR 550.