At-large bids handed out to local wrestlers

A few more area wrestlers got the welcome news that they will be wearing the black and orange singlet for Section 6 next weekend.

On Friday evening, the at-large bids for the upcoming New York State Public High School Athletic Association State Wrestling Championships were announced, and five wrestlers earned a place in the tournament as wild card selections.

They are Kyle Blake of Falconer; Dakota Gardner, Tyler Cassidy and Jude Gardner of Fredonia; and Dusty Lewis of Salamanca.

The state wrestling championships will be held on Feb. 22-23 at the Times Union Center in Albany. The 2013 tournament will feature some 480 athletes from around the state, all competing for a shot at that ultimate goal: a state title. Following a Parade of Champions at 9:30 on the morning of the 22nd, wrestling begins at 10 a.m., with the quarterfinals slated for 2 p.m. later that day and the wrestlebacks at 4 p.m.

The semifinals start at 10 a.m. the next morning and the finals are at 6 p.m.

The at-large bids were awarded to these five athletes by virtue of their outstanding body of work this season and their performance at last weekend’s Division II state qualifier, held at Alumni Arena at the University at Buffalo.

The group joins the seven wrestlers – Southwestern’s Ryan Hetrick, Maple Grove’s Brad Bihler, Falconer’s Brandon Muntz, Fredonia’s Chris Saden and Zach Buckley, Frewsburg’s Austin Lynn and Cattaraugus-Little Valley/Pine Valley’s Matt Booth – from Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties that had already earned an automatic bid to the state tournament following victories in their respective weight classes at the state qualifier.

All in all, the 12 make for a rather formidable squad.

“It’s absolutely (a strong group),” Fredonia coach Alex Conti said. “Along with our front runners, I think that with the wild card group we have we could very easily sneak in some state champions and some state finalists. They’re some quality kids.

“Hopefully they come (to Albany) a little hungry, and we find all of our Section 6 guys up on the podium.”

All but Cassidy, who has an impressive 41-5 record this season but lost an early match at the qualifier before battling his way back to a third-place finish, were the runners-up at the state qualifier.

Kyle Blake, a senior who sports a 31-6 record this year, reached the finals of the 99-pound class before losing a hard-fought battle to nemesis and rival Ryan Hetrick, 3-2.

Of Blake’s six losses this season, three have come at the hands of Hetrick.

At 126 pounds, freshman Dakota Gardner is making yet another trip to the state tournament, though this time as a wild card. A Section 6 champion last season as an eighth grader, Gardner easily reached this year’s finals at the state qualifier before falling to Falconer’s Brandon Muntz, who picked up a two-point takedown early on and maintained from there.

That loss was Gardner’s first of the year.

Joining Gardner is brother Jude, a senior who is also making a return trip to Albany. Jude Gardner, 43-3 this season, fell to Roy-Hart’s Drew Hull by the slimmest of margins, 1-0, in the 145-pound title bout at UB.

“Jude did a nice job,” Conti said following the loss. “Hopefully we wrestle Drew in the finals at states. Drew Hull is the real deal. He took second at states last year and I think he will be the man to beat this year.”

Rounding out the list of wild card selections is the Salamanca Warrior, senior Lewis (37-4).

Lewis, who was the Class D champion, suffered a difficult defeat at the qualifier to Cattaraugus-Little Valley/Pine Valley’s Matt Booth, 15-3.

While the aforementioned 12 are guaranteed a chance to compete for a state title next weekend, there remain a couple more from the area with an outside shot at competing as well.

Among them are Brian Westerdahl of Southwestern, who is a first-alternate in the 138-pound class, Rick Griffith of Falconer, who is a second-alternate at 99 pounds, and Jacob Peru – also of Falconer – who is a fourth-alternate at 106 pounds.

For more information on the tournament, including directions and a full schedule of events, visit www.nysphsaawrestling.com.