WNY Athletics

The ‘Village’ Approach Fueling Rise of Starpoint Wrestling

In the first decade of the Steve Hart era, Starpoint Wrestling has gone from a program with average expectations to a full-on Western New York powerhouse with league, section, and state championship ambitions.

The nucleus of the rise of the program, according to Hart, is tireless effort from a group of dedicated assistant coaches and supporters of the program.

“Each of my coaches has their own unique importance,” said Hart on his staff. “It takes a village to build something special like we have. Each coach has a huge part of that.”

Last week, Starpoint secured it’s second straight ECIC II title and unbeaten 6-0 league season. Before the last two division titles, the Spartans previously won ECIC II in the 2016-2017 season for their only other league championship in the last decade.

The Spartans are currently 22-0 and ranked #2 in the latest statewide large school team ranking (courtesy of New York Wrestling News). Starpoint captured its first Section VI Dual Meet title on Jan. 7 to earn a spot back at the NYSPHSAA Dual Meet Championships on Jan. 28th in Syracuse.

Starpoint reached the state semifinals in the 2022 tournament as an unseeded wildcard entry after taking 2nd in the sectional tournament. Next weekend, they are hoping to make history as the NYS Div. I state champions.

According to Coach Hart, his assistant coaching staff deserves the most credit for the rise and ongoing success of the program in the last ten seasons as each play vital roles to contribute to the team and program in different ways.

In the room, Hart and assistant coaches Kellen Devlin and Kyle McGregor are responsible for and share wrestling specific technique and training duties. As the head coach, Hart takes responsibility for the entire program and day to day operations for the team especially as it relates to scheduling, setting lineups, match strategy, rules interpretation, and long-term team and individual goals.

Assistant coach Kyle McGregor has been on the Spartans staff for the last three seasons.

“He puts in an absurd amount of time year-round,” said Hart on McGregor. “What Kyle brings with his high-level wrestling, general mindset, mental toughness, and confidence has been huge for a lot of our guys.”

McGregor is a 2010 graduate of Tonawanda HS, a two-time NYS place winner, and a 2009 NYS champion.

“I had no intention of coaching three years ago,” said McGregor. “Hart came up to me, said they had a modified coaching spot open. Once I got to Starpoint, it turned into not only coaching modified but then going to every varsity practice and match. After a few months, I started training with the kids. I saw how dedicated the LaPlante’s were. Everything I do, I do it 120%, and I’m all about serving the community and giving back. Things then took off very quickly.”

“What’s important to me is the kids becoming better people,” McGregor added. “It’s not about me, or even wrestling. The discipline and sacrifice these kids learn from wrestling will lead them to be better people in their lives.”

Assistant coach Kellen Devlin is new to the Starpoint staff this season, but already coaches many Spartans in the offseason.

“The mindset Kellen brings and his ability to show perfect and proper technique in any situation can’t be matched…they’re unparalleled,” according to Hart.

Devlin was a three-time NYS champion at Amherst HS and wrestled collegiately at Div. I North Carolina State.

Joe Buscaglia, a physical education teacher at Starpoint and former Olympic level gymnast, is the only member of the wrestling staff who works on the Starpoint campus during the day. Hart works on campus at UB as a Sr. Program Support Specialist for business operations for mechanical and aerospace engineering.

“No one realizes how important Joe is. He holds the fort down when none of us work in the building besides him. He handles things that no one thinks he handles…structure, conditioning, organizational things within the school are on Joe,” said Hart. “He starts practice for us and makes sure everything’s in order.”

Modified wrestling coach Wayne LeBlanc wrestled for Hart his senior year at Starpoint and was hired immediately the next year to coach the modified team. He has been on the staff ever since.

“Wayne does all of the dirty work. He coaches modified, and when the team is split up, he’s taking the JV’s all over the place when he doesn’t have to…he insists on it. He’s a huge part of our developmental process,” said Hart.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without Brian LaPlante and the whole family,” said Hart on the name that has become synonymous with Starpoint Wrestling. “All the support he brings, his wrestling knowledge, all of those things together have helped bring us to where we are.”

Another major contribution to the program from the LaPlante’s comes by way of the ‘The Barn.’

Wrestlers and coaches around WNY have come to know ‘The Barn,’ owned by Brian and Meghan LaPlante, as one of the primary training spots in the region outside of schools. ‘The Barn,’ also known as ‘Pound Town Regional Training Center,’ sits on property owned by the LaPlante’s and is outfitted with weight training equipment and wrestling mats. The building has seen year round use since opening.

“We wanted to have a place for the boys, if they wanted to pursue wrestling, to the extent that they possibly could, we knew we wanted something like this,” said Brian LaPlante on the beginnings of The Barn. “Our goal was to give the kids as much access to as much as possible so they could get to where they said they wanted to get to.”

LaPlante referenced some Section V greats like the Recco’s from Lyndonville, Paddock’s from Warsaw, and a number of wrestlers from the Attica-Batavia-Alexander area who have similar, privately owned spaces where wrestling greatness has been forged through the years.

“For me, the coolest thing has been looking at the team now and seeing the impact of the time they’ve spent together at our barn paying off,” said LaPlante. “We didn’t want our kids to be the two kids in school that nobody knew because they wrestle…now we’ve got a whole team of them and they’re friends. Ultimately, I want my boys to do as well as possible, but for them to do as well as possible with more kids wanting to do the same things is better for them as well.”

Devlin and McGregor serve as the ‘house’ instructors at The Barn where they have found success in training not only Starpoint wrestlers but wrestlers from dozens of other schools while also running the ‘KD6’ wrestling club.

“I’m all about teaching people how to be great, to be the best they can be…that’s something that’s important to me,” said McGregor. “Steve was influential in getting the other kids to start coming to practice. Once they saw what we were doing, they wanted to be a part of it. The more that I have been giving back and serving, everything has been taking off. It amazes me how much they want to practice and get better.”

McGregor added, “Kellen has been so influential in starting the club. He’s taught me so much since he’s come back home. I wouldn’t be half as I good as I am if it wasn’t for him and his technique, and how much he knows about wrestling. We’re building something really special here.”

The Barn played an absolutely crucial role for wrestlers especially in the 2020-2021 school year when access to facilities and practice rooms on school grounds were limited due to pandemic concerns and the sport being delayed for weeks. Wrestlers from across the region, primarily from Niagara and northern Erie counties, have benefited remarkably from The Barn over the last two plus years.

The Starpoint Wrestling ‘family’ can be meant both metaphorically and literally. This year’s roster features four sets of two brothers, where three of those sets of brothers are routinely in the Spartans’ dual lineup. Remarkably, only one out of the six of those ‘main’ contributors is a senior – upper weight Matt Caldwell.

Compound all of this talent with six more seniors – JR Leuer, CJ Uptegrove, Landon Grainy, Phil Pirinelli, George Thompson, and Hunter Ducharme – who are primary contributors and have come up through the ranks over the last 4-5 years to get one of the state’s most talented high school wrestling rosters.

Arguably, the core of the Spartans’ lineup are brothers Gage (junior) and Griffin (freshman) LaPlante. Gage is a returning sectional finalist and 7th place winner in the 2022 NYS Division I championships last February. So far this season, Gage is 33-4 with a place finish at the Powerade Invitational and an Eastern States title on his season record.

Griffin is a defending Section VI champion and 5th place winner in NYS. Currently, Griffin is 36-4 on the season and competed at Powerade and placed 5th at Eastern States.

Having two returning state place winners who are capable of covering a number of weights in addition to the bounty of talent spread throughout the lineup makes game planning for the Spartans an incredible challenge for opposing coaches.

Brothers Matt and Zach (freshman) Caldwell and Caden (junior) and Jaron (sophomore) Barrientos are all having outstanding seasons as well. All four are returning sectional place winners looking to punch through to the NYS tournament in February. All four recently competed at Eastern States with Zach (8th) and Jaron (3rd) bringing home crucial place finishes.

Nine entries that also included Leuer, Grainy, and freshman Kole Haseley and four place winners at Eastern States landed Starpoint a top-3 place finish in the final team standings at one of the toughest regular season individual competitions in the northeastern states.

It also gave the Spartans a true opportunity to see where they stand against some of the other elite large school teams in NYS including the likes of Minisink Valley (1-seed for the state duals) and Wantagh (3-seed for the state duals), both of whom Starpoint might encounter on Saturday in Syracuse.

The Spartans will hit the road to the Salt City on Friday afternoon for the state dual meet championships on Saturday at Onondaga County Community College. Starpoint has earned the 2-seed in the large school bracket and will wrestle Section V wildcard Fairport and Section III champion Cicero-North Syracuse in their first round pool duals.

Starpoint and Fairport met once already this season in an early December inter-sectional friendly dual. In that dual, Starpoint overcame a 24-19 deficit with only four bouts left, pinning in three of the last four weights, to claim a 37-27 victory on the road between two top-5 ranked NYS large school teams.

Also representing Section VI in Syracuse are small school sectional champion Chautauqua Lake and Niagara Wheatfield who earned a wildcard entry back to the large school tournament.

Wrestling begins at 9am at SRC Arena in Syracuse. The finals are scheduled to begin at 5pm and will be streamed via the NFHS Network.

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