Big 30 grapplers reach qualifiers with eye on states

Olean’s Connor Walsh (right) pins Dunkirk’s Jimmy Bautista in a dual match this past December. Walsh will be the top-seeded wrestler at 220 pounds at the Section 6 Division II state qualifier this weekend at Southwestern.

As Big 30 wrestlers prepare for this weekend’s state qualifier tournaments, they’ll do so with two things in mind: A trip to Albany and the uniform that they’ll wear when they compete there.

For some, that uniform is a black singlet with a thick orange stripe down each side and “Section VI” written in all capital letters across the chest.

For others, it’s a royal purple singlet with “FIVE” written in a field of white across the chest and a white “V” on the back that represents Section 5.

A berth in the state championship tournament, and a chance to represent their section, awaits the winner of each weight class at the state qualifiers.

In total, 45 Big 30 wrestlers will compete this weekend. Of those, 27 will represent Section 6 and 18 will represent Section 5.

“The way that we consider things, it’s all just a warmup for now,” Olean coach Mike O’Connor said of the tournament. “This weekend is what people remember.”

The Huskies’ program has sent a representative to the state tournament nine years in a row, and, if all goes according to plan this weekend, O’Connor is confident that the streak will continue.

“IT’S SOMETHING we talk about from the start of the season,” he said. “Our goal is to get kids to the state tournament, and it’s really a program-wide effort to get them there.”

Olean will send six wrestlers to the Section 6 Division II state qualifier at Southwestern, including top-seeded Connor Walsh at 220 pounds.

“(Connor) has been very successful in our section,” O’Connor said. “We’ve tried to get him out of the section to find some good competition.”

Advancement to the finals would likely pit Walsh against the winner of second-seeded Alex Christy of Fredonia and third-seeded Collin Beichner of Falconer.

Gavin Kulp is seeded second for the Huskies at 160 pounds, and will likely have a rematch of his sectional class final match with Iroquois’ Tyler Barry in the semis.

Kulp edged Barry, who is seeded third this weekend, by a 6-5 decision last Saturday.

“We’ve moved (Kulp) up and down in weight to wrestle some of the better opponents around,”

O’Connor said. “He and (Walsh) have both taken some losses, but it has prepared them for this part of the season.”

Pioneer will send 11 wrestlers to the tournament, including 113-pounder David Ball, who is seeded first. Alex Miley (138) and Kameron Riordan (145) are each seeded second for the Panthers.

Portville’s Dakota Mascho is the top seed at 152 pounds, while 170 pounds could see an all-Big 30 matchup in the semifinals, as Franklinville’s Cleon Lawton is seeded second and Portville’s Jayden Lassiter third.

Franklinville’s Kyle Wittenrich is seeded third at 195 pounds.

SECTION 5 Class B3 champion Bolivar-Richburg will send 12 wrestlers to the Section 5 Division II state qualifier at SUNY Brockport, and coach Todd Taylor believes that several Wolverines have a legitimate shot to win it.

Taylor said that he and his team have talked all season about what it means to represent Section 5 at the state tournament.

“It means a lot,” Taylor said. “To me, it’s a very high standard to represent such a large area of New York state, and some of the best competition around. The kids have been working their tails off to prepare for this weekend.”

The Wolverines have two top seeds in the tournament, including Dawsen Yates at 126 pounds.

Yates carries a 48-1 record into the state qualifier. If he advances to the finals, he will likely meet the winner of second-seeded Joey Brennan of LeRoy and third-seeded Mason Drew of Hornell.

Tyler Smith is the favorite at 220 pounds after upsetting Lydonville’s Mario Fidanza in their sectional final match last weekend. Smith carries a record of 45-3 into the tournament, and could potentially see Fidanza again in the finals.

“(Smith) has a really good shot,” Taylor said. “Him and Hudson (Evingham) have been great practice partners all year.”

Evingham, who is 49-1 on the season, is seeded second at 195 pounds behind Warsaw’s Nate DeGroff. DeGroff, who finished third at the state tournament last year, beat Evingham 6-2 at the Gowanda tournament three weeks ago.

“We constantly go over what happened in that match and how (Evingham) can improve on it,” Taylor said.

B-R’s preparation over the past week has included practices at Olean, Franklinville and Canisteo-Greenwood.

“We’re trying to get it into (the wrestlers’) heads that it’s good to see different people in practice and different styles of wrestling,” Taylor said. “We’ve explained to all of our wrestlers what has to be done to get the best chance to make it to states.”

HERE’S HOW many wrestlers will represent each Big 30 team at state qualifiers: B-R (12), Pioneer (11), Olean (6), Franklinville (6), Wellsville (5), Portville (4), Fillmore (1).

The Section 6 tournament is Saturday only, with finals scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

The Section 5 tournament will wrestle its preliminaries and quarterfinals on Friday. Semifinals are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, with finals scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.