Cover photo courtesy of St. Joe’s Wrestling
Within a span of twenty-one calendar days, Monsignor Martin member wrestling programs started and finished what might possibly be the shortest wrestling season in organized high school sports history.
After Erie County finally revoked its recommendation to postpone the high school wrestling season in the county on Friday, May 14th, Msgr. Martin and Section VI programs in Erie were forced to squeeze the NYSPHSAA federation mandated ten practices into a very short window of time in order to compete. As a result, the Msgr. Martin wrestling competition schedule spanned a total of six days from Wednesday, June 2nd to Sunday, June 6th.
“I told the coaches that they did what nobody thought they could do,” said MMHSAA wrestling chairman Pete Kennedy on the ultra short season. “To pull off a season, with large rosters, at a time when it wasn’t a normal season, where each of our teams had solid lineups…our kids were happy and each of those coaches had to work with other sports at their schools in order to get these kids practices. I think that was the thing I was most proud of. Kids weren’t being told at our schools that they couldn’t do other things…that may not be happening everywhere else. That was exactly the message we are supposed to be giving people. I think that wrestling is always desperate for bodies and we say that nobody will work with us…but we need to work with other people at the same time. Each of the coaches did just that. We could definitely tell that the kids made the best of a tough situation.”
As of late, the MMHSAA is down to five squads regularly competing each winter. For the spring 2021 season, St. Mary’s, St. Francis, and St. Joe’s all went ahead with wrestling while Canisius and Gow School elected not to participate.
Kennedy, along with MMHSAA chairman Pete Schneider, St. Joe’s head coach Brad Devlin, St. Mary’s head coach Zach Weiss, and St. Francis head coach Mike Messore ultimately decided to fit all league matches and the annual All-Catholic Tournament into the week after Memorial Day.
Wednesday, June 2nd was the first ‘tri-meet’ amongst the three teams held at St. Mary’s High School. The defending league dual meet and All-Catholic Tournament champion squad St. Joe’s claimed a 39-27 win over the Red Raiders as well as a 43-18 victory over the host Lancers to go 2-0 on the day. St. Francis was a 54-23 winner over St. Mary’s as well. The St. Mary’s/St. Francis dual also gave the first glimpse of the league’s most intriguing matchup over the week as the Lancers’ Trevor Sheehan was a winner by pin over St. Francis’s Liam Edwards at 160-pounds. Sheehan was the Section VI Division I 3rd place winner at 138-pounds last season on Lancaster’s roster while Edwards was an All-Catholic finalist at 126.
On Friday, the venue shifted to St. Francis High School. St. Joe’s would defeat St. Mary’s, 40-21, before capturing a 37-30 victory over the resilient Raiders. After falling behind 16-6 after five weights, St. Francis earned three straight pins to take a 24-16 lead before ‘Joe’s captured the win, earning four pins in the contest to officially end the short dual season with a 4-0 league record for the second year in a row. St. Francis was again a winner over St. Mary’s this time by a 40-21 margin. In the dual, Edwards was a 7-2 decision winner over Sheehan to split the series 1-1 going into Sunday.
Sunday’s 55th Annual Monsignor Martin All-Catholic Tournament was held at St. Joe’s with the hosts winning their 7th consecutive All-Catholic title with 207 points to runner-up St. Mary’s 113. St. Francis followed with 106 points followed a pair of Canisius wrestlers who tallied 44 points.
The Marauders were led by five individual champions in Austin Zimmerman at 102-pounds, Mike Jarosz at 138, Luke Ventresca at 145, Ronnie Jones at 189, and Aidan Wright at 285. Jones became the fifth Marauder in program history to become a four time All-Catholic champion and was also awarded the league MVP for the spring 2021 season. St. Joe’s head coach Brad Devlin was also awarded as the league’s Coach of the Year for the second year in a row.
St. Mary’s was led by individual champions Alex Ellison at 152, Griffin Dempsey at 172, Sheehan at 160, and freshman Ashley Burns at 110 who made history as the first female All-Catholic champion in the 55-year tradition of the event. Also, junior Grace Monheim became the first female in the history of the event to win a head to head match when she captured a second period pin in the consolation match at 126-pounds. Sheehan met Edwards for the third and final time of the season and was a winner by pin to claim the 160-pound All-Catholic title. Sheehan was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler as well.
“St. Mary’s Wrestling is for everyone, and this year proved that once again,” said Lancers head coach Zach Weiss at the conclusion of the tournament. “Our program had one senior this year (Aaron Syracuse), whose resilience and dedication to the team is to be commended. Our All-Catholic champions stepped into their own leadership roles as well. Through shifting schedules, work, and other sports, all Msgr. Martin wrestlers were able to persevere and preserve the rich history of our All-Catholic Tournament.”
Weiss continued, “The opportunity to grow the sport within my building has always been the goal, but being at the front of the rise of women’s wrestling is an honor. These girls (Burns and Monheim) were able to prepare themselves to compete in spite of the last year’s situation and the lack of female competition to earn an opportunity to enter the All-Catholic Tournament…it was truly special.”
St. Francis was led by individual champions Sam Berti at 118 and Jimmy Gordon at 126 while Canisius’s Luke Brydges (120) and Braydon Vandenberg (195) both repeated as All-Catholic champions.
All thirteen All-Catholic champions have qualified to compete at the 55th Annual CHSAA Championships being held at Iona Prep High School in New Rochelle on Saturday, June 12th. Likewise, St. Francis’s Edwards was the recipient of an at-large wildcard invitation to the event.
“I always like at the end of the year our kids come together,” said Kennedy reflecting on the season. “They compete really hard and the tournament was a nice indication of them coming together for that while also having an opportunity to socialize. The kids from all schools were happy to be together. It will be a privilege to go to the CHSAA Championships this weekend. The kids realize that they have to do a good job so that when we get back to normal next year everybody can.”