A strong senior class departed the league last spring as twenty-four of the 76 All-Catholics place winners graduated. Half of the 2018-2019 NYS Catholic High School Athletic Association (CHSAA) Monsignor Martin place winners graduated in the spring as well (eleven of 22). Out of the twenty-four league place winners that graduated, St. Francis was hit the hardest losing ten seniors from last year’s league champion squad (five of whom placed in CHSAA), most notably three-time CHSAA champion and 3rd place NYS finisher Dominik Thomas. Four squads attended the CHSAA duals for the first time in league history while St. Mary’s earned its first victory as a competitor at that event. In addition to losing the league’s best wrestler over the last four years, a new head coach takes over on Kenmore Ave and St. Mary’s will be the first in the area to appear with a separate team for girls. With a revitalized Crusader program looking to make a splash as well, the race for the Monsignor Martin title should be an all-out sprint this winter.
St. Francis Red Raiders
Head coach: Mike Messore
2018-2019 results: 4-0 league, 28-10 overall, MMHSAA league champion, #7 WNY Athletics final large school ranking, Honorable Mention New York State Sportswriters Association (NYSSWA) final large school ranking
Key losses: Dominik Thomas, Nolan Thomas, Slade Merck, Logan Lauck, Dan Browning, Sean O’Meara, Ben Jacobs, Grayson Myers
Key returners: Marko Kasiyan, Liam Edwards, Tyler Wilkinson, Zach Miller, Brandon Fox, Jack Gordon, Shan Roberts, Kimal Clark, Tim Greenan, Dylan Mack, Tyler Braeuner, Eric Schon, Jack Lauer
Simply put, losing ten seniors is hard, especially when five of those wrestlers placed in the CHSAA tournament last season and helped the Red Raiders to three of the last four league titles. The most decorated wrestler in program history graduated but not after helping long time head coach Mike Messore achieve his 300th career win back in January.
St. Francis Red Raider wrestling has proven to be as consistent as any in WNY and another squad under the experienced guidance of Messore should display that again this winter. Thirteen All-Catholic tournament place winners should be back this year led by another big class of seven seniors. Sophomore Marko Kasiyan is the only returning league champion, but senior Jack Gordon is the highest returning CHSAA placer with a 3rd place finish at 145-pounds last winter. Liam Edwards also returns coming off a strong end of the season taking 4th at CHSAA while senior gridiron star Eric Schon returns with a 5th place finish. Tyler Wilkinson was a 6th place finisher at the ‘Catholic states’ as well. What could be a conundrum for the lineup again is Schon and fellow heavyweight Jack Lauer occupying the same weight class when only one can compete in per dual. With thirteen experienced wrestlers returning the Red Raiders shouldn’t be expected to just hand over the league title.
St. Joe’s Marauders
Head coach: Brad Devlin
2018-2019 results: 3-1 league, 16-11 overall, MMHSAA 2nd place, #9 WNY Athletics final large school ranking, Honorable Mention NYSSWA final large school ranking, Monsignor Martin All-Catholic Wrestling Championships team champion
Key losses: Sullivan Walsh, Matt Werts, Alex Rizun, Charles Morrison, Sean Murphy, Louis Perreault
Key returners: Ronnie Jones, Ben Parish, Dalas Jackson, Caleb Lesswing, Luke Sheehan, Garrett Grenauer, Mark Westner
Another competitive year for the Marauders saw them challenge for the league title, finish in the top ten of the area’s large school teams, and enjoy a handful of strong individual performances by a few seniors and underclassmen. As it turned out, it was the final campaign for fourteen-year head coach Pete Kennedy, who is as much of an advocate for the league as he is for St. Joe’s Collegiate. Now, ‘Joe’s alumnus Brad Devlin will take the reins of the team with big expectations to meet and uphold. Returning to the lineup should be sixteen All-Catholics place winners from a year ago, including six seniors who have helped St. Joe’s win the tournament in each of their three years on Kenmore Ave to this point. Junior Ronnie Jones had a breakout campaign in 2018-2019, winning the league title and making it all the way to the CHSAA final at 145-pounds before falling to the eventual NYS Division I champion. Senior Caleb Lesswing also claimed a league title and runner-up finish in CHSAA falling by only two points in the 285-pound title match. Senior Ben Parish put together another outstanding season claiming 5th in CHSAA at 138-pounds as did classmate Dalas Jackson at 120. Compare four returning CHSAA place winners to three lost at graduation and the most returning league place winners of any of the five member teams. And again, in spite of the tough league slate, the Marauders have once again put together a challenging non-league schedule with duals against Lancaster, Amherst, and Section V powerhouse Spencerport and tough tournaments at Cathedral Prep, Cheektowaga, and Teike/Bernabi at Spencerport.
Head coach: Dave Wilcox
2018-2019 results: 2-2 league, 16-6 overall, MMHSAA 3rd place, Honorable Mention WNY Athletics final large school ranking, Honorable Mention NYSSWA final large school ranking
Key losses: Matt Baldwin, Josh Kracker, Tom Blackwell, Collin Monteleone
Key returners: Noah Rockensuess, Luke Brydges, Cody Franklin, Antwain Bienavides, Barry Colby, Jacob Perez, Gabe Fisher, Braydon Vandenberg
The Crusaders were one the area’s most improved teams in 2018-2019 under first year head coach Dave Wilcox, and it was a noticeable difference. The team doubled its win total from the previous season, went 6-3 at the CHSAA duals (one win in 2017-2018), and placed four wrestlers at the CHSAA individual championships. While three of those athletes have graduated, twelve league placers should return including five seniors led by lightweight Noah Rockensuess and sophomore CHSAA place winner Luke Brydges. Rockensuess, Brydges, and Cody Franklin are all league finalists. Also, joining the Crusaders this winter will be star athlete Joe Dixon, who was a Class AA champion and sectional 3rd place winner at Niagara Falls last season. A young squad last year should be far more experienced this year given Wilcox’s emphasis on off-season wrestling. The Crusaders may be primed for another big step forward in 2019-2020.
St. Mary’s of Lancaster Lancers
Head coach: Zach Weiss
2018-2019 results: 1-3 league, 8-23 overall, MMHSAA 4th place
Key losses: Parker Fay, Ethan Craddock, Josh Weiss, Austin Walsh, Nick Levea, Trevor Sheehan
Key returners: Matt Ash, Zach Ash, Alex Ellison, Thomas Moss, Chris Kobis, Tyler Cruz, Aaron Syracuse
Head coach Zach Weiss has quietly been strengthening the foundation of the Lancer program in his now six-year tenure. That foundation of course starts with better turnout. Whereas the Lancers gave up a considerable amount of forfeits on a nightly basis only a few short years ago, last year’s squad was down to as few as two or three forfeits on multiple occasions. The Lancers seemed to get better as the season went on as well, bolstering the lineup with fewer holes resulting in a handful of close wins and a few losses to powerful teams but highlighted by decent individual performances. The Lancers placed thirteen wrestlers in the All-Catholic tournament, five of whom were seniors including league champion Parker Fay. Seven of the league place winners return this season led by All-Catholic finalist Matt Ash. Ash fell to teammate Trevor Sheehan in the final, who opted to go back to Lancaster Central this year. Both went on to place at Catholic States however, as Sheehan again defeated Ash in the 3rd place match. A return to the CHSAA Duals for the Lancers would be huge in 2020, and multiplying their first year’s win total would mark another program milestone. Whatever the case may be, the Lancers are moving in the right direction.
Gow School Ravens
Head coach: Jason Rothfuss
2018-2019 results: 0-4 league, 0-7 overall, MMHSAA 5th place
Key returners: Max Carrier, Jerrison Chen
The Ravens were led by Max Carrier and Jerrison Chen in 2018-2019 who both had standout performances at the All-Catholic tournament. Carrier won the 132-pound Monsignor Martin title after having placed 2nd and 3rd in the previous two seasons, as well as a 6th place CHSAA finish in 2017-2018. Now in his senior season, Carrier will be looking to defend that league title and make it back to the podium at Catholic States. Chen earned a runner-up finish at 106-pounds as a freshman last season.