PENDLETON — Starpoint is flexing right now, and the Erie County Interscholastic Conference better take notice.
The Spartans (4-0) remained undefeated in ECIC II league duals, battering Alden, 66-19, Wednesday night at Starpoint High School. This Starpoint squad is currently one match ahead of overall ECIC powerhouse Pioneer (3-0) and currently ranks as WNY Athletics' No. 8 large school in its sixth poll this season.
Head coach Steve Hart thinks that his program is moving in the right direction, though he also feels that there is still a lot of improvement that can be made. Hart still looks at the Panthers as "the team to beat" in ECIC, with Pioneer having won the last six league titles and going undefeated in the league in that span. The Spartans last won the ECIC II division, however, in the 2016-17 school year.
This all just adds to the intrigue ahead of program's big date with the Panthers, a potential league-title match slated for Jan. 22 in Yorkshire. Aside from Pioneer, the Spartans will battle Lake Shore and East Aurora in ECIC duals before the postseason begins. Hart keyed in on what specific areas he wants to see the group improve upon before it gets to the big matchup with Pioneer.
"We need to improve technically (and) get better in certain positions. Also, we need to know (to) not give up scores with short time left at the end of periods," Hart said. "And when we need to score with short time left to secure victories or keep it from being a major decision, things like that.
"Every point you can save, or every point you can score, really helps the dual match. So we need to work hard, stay healthy No. 1, keep our cardiovascular shape up, and keep grinding away in the practice room and getting technically sound for this end of the season run here."
Hart emphasized how integral this time of the wrestling season is, especially with teams working through three major holidays in-season with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. But he was pleased with the team's attendance over the break and how dialed in they were even being out of school for nearly two weeks.
Starpoint's head man made it a point to shout out his guys like 99-pounder Gage LaPlante, an eighth grader who is ranked No. 12 in New York's Division I 99-pound list, No. 3 in Section VI among all 99 pounders, and stands at 22-1 on the season. Other names were returning sectional finalist and Spencerport tournament champion Jacob Eckler (126 pounds, 21-3 record), JR Leuer (99, 18-8), CJ Uptegrove (106, 15-6), the Lyness brothers, Dylan (113, 16-9) and Gavin (120, 15-8), and Christian Lasher (126/15-8).
As for our other local wrestling programs, here's what we have heading into the weekend:
• The Niagara Frontier League chase looks like a two-horse race, with Niagara Falls and Grand Island both sitting at 4-0 in league dual meets, setting up a crucial Jan. 29 matchup. The Wolverines control their own destiny, winning the league if they take down Lewiston-Porter and the Vikings over the next two weeks. GI has a much tougher road, battling with Niagara Wheatfield next week before the Falls dual.
The Falcons also play a big role in this thing too. At 3-1 in league duals, NW can still win the NFL if it beats GI on Jan. 22, and the Vikings also handle the Wolverines in that big final dual.
• Newfane secured its 34th consecutive league win Wednesday night over Albion. The Panthers now stand at 4-0 in the Niagara-Orleans League and are now inching closer to winning a seventh straight league title with just one league dual meet left against Akron.
We should take a moment to stop and applaud what head coach Matt Lingle has built over on One Panther Drive, captaining the ship of one of Western New York's most underrated programs.
• North Tonawanda coaches Wally Maziarz and Tony Fire have worked wonders for the Lumberjacks over the last two seasons, restoring the program with 20 wins since taking over at the start of the 2018-19 season. NT is now 10-6 this year and things are looking up for this season and beyond.
With a dearth of young talent and a great youth wrestling system to recruit from, the Jacks should be a program to watch as the 2020's progress.
• Several local programs will be competing in the 18th Anniversary Eastern States Wrestling Classic, which is taking place this weekend at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake. Many Section VI schools will attend, including locals Grand Island, Newfane, Niagara Falls and Niagara Wheatfield, as will Section IX's Wyoming Seminary, the top-ranked team in the nation.
Here are some local individuals who have been set as the top seeds heading into the showcase: No. 2 — Willie McDougald (NF, 145); No. 3 — Adam Daghestani (GI, 170), Justin McDougald (NW, 138) and Andy Lucinski (Newfane, 106); No. 6 — Blake Bielec, (GI, 220); No. 17 — Jack Randle (GI, 126); No. 20 — Brian Bielec, (GI, 152); No. 23 — Collin Coughenour, (NW, 120).
• In the New York Sportswriters Association's most recent poll, NW was our only ranked school, placing 12th in the Division I large schools poll. GI, Niagara Falls, and Newfane did receive some recognition though, with all three being among seven Section VI programs to receive an honorable mention.
Follow sports reporter Khari Demos on Twitter @riri_demos. Also, tune in to Khari at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on WGR 550's 'Inside High School Sports,' as well as the 'Greater WNY Sports Connection' podcast, a collaboration with Jon Simon and WNY Athletics.