The Niagara Falls Wolverines wrestling team locked up its third consecutive ‘league’ title last Friday, January 28th with a 38-12 victory at home over Niagara Frontier League archrival Niagara Wheatfield to finish unbeaten in NFL action for the second time in the last three years. The Wolverines also boasted a 10-0 record in the spring 2021 ‘super league’ which included wins over Wheatfield and non-NFL powerhouses Starpoint and Newfane and concluded the season with the team title at the Section VI Division I championships.
The Wolverines’ latest victory over the Falcons was the fourth in a row in the series going back to the 2019-2020 season. The streak includes three consecutive wins over Wheatfield in NFL action and a 35-24 win on January 8th at the Section VI Division I Duals. Also, the Wolverines retained possession of the Niagara Cup, first introduced in 2013, for the third straight year. Wheatfield won five of the first six Niagara Cups to hold what is now a narrow five to four lead in the ‘Cup series.
With a roster loaded with individual talent, three returning sectional champions, and with few losses to graduation in 2021, the Wolverines started the 2021-2022 season as the top ranked large school squad in WNY. ‘Falls dominated the NFL schedule this season and the team’s 3rd place finish at the sectional duals was the first placement at the tournament in program history.
However, before the string of recent successes, ‘Falls went without an NFL title for nine years, having last won the conference championship in the 2010-2011 season. For the eight full seasons in between league titles, the Wolverines usually finished somewhere in the top three or four spots in the final standings with the exception of a 2nd place finish in 2014-2015.
While ‘Falls battled through the deep NFL schedule from 2011-2019, the Wolverines weren’t without individual success led especially by 2014 NYS place winner Jerome Carter and 2020 graduate, four-time state placer, and two-time NYS champion Willie McDougald, who is currently one of the hottest rising stars in NCAA Division I for the University of Oklahoma Sooners.
Parallel to the meteoric rise of McDougald in the landscape of NYS wrestling came a local balance of power starting to tip in favor of the Wolverines, a full-fledged wrestling revival, and a new wave of young wrestlers whose wrestling training and upbringings can be traced to the legendary Niagara Falls Wrestling Club and Niagara Wheatfield Amateur Athletics clubs.
While it is no secret that Niagara Falls is a powderkeg of athletes, second year head coach Josh Eagan says there is one characteristic that defines the program: love.
“Niagara Falls Wrestling is a family thing,” said Eagan. “It’s all love.”
Eagan, a 2004 NFHS graduate and state tournament place winner, knows better than anyone both the advantages and challenges within the community at large, and with it, the best formula for managing those advantages and challenges.
“Why am I coaching high school wrestling right now? Because I love it,” Eagan reflected. “It’s all about the kids…you love it, you can’t get away from it. If you don’t feel like you are achieving anything…like in terms of influencing kids, man, that’s what it’s all about…that’s Niagara Falls Wrestling. The influence you can have here is huge. It’s ALL about the kids.”
Within the team itself, Eagan preaches a ‘leadership by example’ philosophy that the older members of the team, especially, have adopted.
“Leadership by example is something you can’t teach, can’t force,” said Eagan. “My seniors are the leaders on the team…Ja’shad Bumpers, Darren Christian, Jesiere Carter, Max Hill, Dom Contento. The only way you can lead by example is by being the hardest worker in the room.”
Eagan believes that a big part of the recipe for the Wolverines’ success goes beyond the wrestling itself.
“We built a philosophy where it’s not all about wrestling and being an athlete,” said Eagan. “It’s more about the kids and building relationships with them which leads to building camaraderie within the team. It’s become fun and the kids take pride in the program.”
Eagan also pointed out the excellent facilities unlike any other in WNY that the district has invested in that directly benefit the wrestling program. The field house adjacent to the high school is home to Wolverines Wrestling history, awards, and memorabilia that showcases the long tradition of the program.
“The fact that we have our own facility, our own space, is big for our program too. We are very fortunate with our facilities and the access to things we have. The mats are down all the time, we have our own locker room. We can watch film, drill, hit the weight room, and stay after practice and get some more work in. It’s exclusive, in a way, and kids here want to be a part of it.”
Niagara Falls finishes the 2021-2022 campaign a perfect 7-0 in the NFL and 13-1 overall. The Wolverines start their journey through the post season on Saturday at the Class AA championships at Williamsville North. Returning sectional champions Jaden Crumpler (junior, 23-2), Amarfio Reynolds, Jr. (junior, 24-1) and Jesiere Carter (senior, 24-4) will lead an explosive roster of talented wrestlers while looking to repeat as sectional champions and advance to the state individual championships in Albany.
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