By Mike Meiler firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Frontier League boys swimming season has seen very few surprises through its first half.
Every team has played one another, and the schools expected to come out on top generally have. The league’s top team (Lockport) is undefeated, while second-place Grand Island has only lost to the Lions. Third-place Niagara-Wheatfield has only lost to the top two teams, and so on and so forth, all the way through fifth-place Lewiston-Porter.
The same applies for the athletes. The top returning performers from last season have shined early, and no player has stood out more than Lew-Port senior diver Ryan Monteleone, who holds the top six-dive score in New York State this season with a 339.00 and earned a scholarship to Niagara University.
Monteleone broke in with the Lancers’ varsity team as a seventh grader, attempting dives for the first time after his father pointed out to head coach Josh Janese how much he enjoyed jumping on the trampoline in his backyard. His top score during his first season was just 125, though it more than doubled to 284 during his eighth-grade season.
As a freshman, Monteleone made the state championships, where he finished 19th. He went again as a sophomore and finished 11th, and last season he ended up seventh in states after claiming the Section VI championship.
The year-to-year improvement and last year’s finish have the sights set high this season.
“He obviously wants to win states, and it’s fair to say that he’s near the top,” Janese said. “... He’s in a different world athletically. He can do some of the upper-echelon dives, and last year he did three at states that no one else did. He might be the only one physically that can do them.”
Joining Monteleone as a standout on the 3-4 Lancers is fellow senior Mitch Sembert, who holds the second-fastest time in the league in the 50-yard freestyle this season.
While Sembert will likely compete in sectionals and possibly states, it’s his accomplishments outside of the pool that have jumped out. Sembert is in the final stages of the application and interview process for West Point and the Air Force Academy and has a “very good” chance of ending up at one or the other, according to Janese.
Sembert, Monteleone and Jake Warren serve as captains of the senior-laden Lancers, who have 12 athletes in their final years. Dave Broderick and Tom Barr have added to the list of 12th graders playing key roles. Sophomore Joe Luchetti is one of the few underclassmen contributing and has been a key part of the Lancers’ depth, said Janese.
The Lancers will go on their biannual winter break trip after Christmas, taking a week-long trek to Florida to train before heading back for the second half of the NFL season.
The Vikings sit second in the NFL at 6-1, their only loss coming to undefeated Lockport.
Unlike most of the other teams in the league, though, the Vikings have won on depth. GI doesn’t have one swimmer that’s qualified for states, but it boasts 13 qualifications for the sectional championships already and two more for the Section VI Class A meet.
“We’ve spent the past four or five years really working at building a team,” head coach Joseph Mentor said. “For the first time in about four years we’ve got some frontline guys that can go out and win and the depth to back it up.”
The depth starts at the top with seniors Nathan Link and Jake Stromberg. Though neither has qualified in an individual event, both are members of GI’s sectional-qualified relay teams and have earned key points despite a lack of first-place finishes.
“A lot of second- and third-place finishes can win a meet,” Mentor said. “Without guys like Nathan and Jake, it can be tough to win.”
A strong junior class has scored the most wins, thanks in part to Jordan Piershalski, Ian Eisenberger, Kurt Laschinger, Steven White and Tim Winder. Piershalski, Eisenberger and Winder have combined for seven sectional qualifications, not including relays, while Laschinger and Piershalski both qualified for the Class A meet in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Eighth-grader Jake Ruffalo has also made an impact, holding the second-best time in the NFL in the 200-yard individual medley. He’s qualified for sectionals in the medley, the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard freestyle, and Mentor said a big part of his success has been the presence of the upperclassmen around him.
“(Jake’s) got good speed in the water,” Mentor said. “He’s a big kid and he can really move. He also has some good kids to look up to, and he’s had a chance to see how things are done.”
The Wolverines (4-3) have settled in at the middle of the NFL standings, sitting fourth with wins over the four teams below (Kenmore East, Ken West, North Tonawanda, Lew-Port) and losses to the three above (GI, Niagara-Wheatfield, Lockport).
The first half of the season is about what head coach Ed Maynard expected from his young team.
“We’re an up-and-coming team,” Maynard said. “We have some decent talent, but we’re working on our depth right now.”
The lone experienced senior is Hunter Weber, who serves as a utility man. He’s joined in captaincy by three juniors: Bryce Karcz, Jimmy Tower and Christian Devlin.
Karcz holds the third-fastest time in the NFL in the 50-yard freestyle (23.49) and the fourth in the 100-yard butterfly (59.48). Tower joins him in sprints, while Devlin — brother of former Wolverine Austin Devlin, who’s now diving at the University at Buffalo — swims the distance freestyles.
Sophomore Brandon Nicholas heads the team’s youth, holding the fourth-best time in the league in the 100-yard backstroke.
Weber, Karcz, Tower, Devlin and Nicholas have all qualified for the Class A championships, while each of NF’s relay teams has qualified for sectionals.
The three-time defending NFL champion Falcons sit at 5-2 with losses to GI and Lockport.
N-W lost 12 seniors to graduation after last season, including the Gazette’s Player of the Year in Josh Miller, who’s now swimming at Niagara University.
“We’re in a rebuilding year,” said head coach Mike Corsaro. “Our numbers are down, so we’re trying to rebuild with young kids.”
Senior Dan Peltier has set the standard early, holding the top time in the NFL and one of the best in Western New York in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:05.15). Corsaro said Peltier has his sights set on making states.
Sophomore Nathan Ehrmann has left his mark on three events, holding the third-best times in the league in the 100-yard individual medley, the 100-yard backstroke and the 100-yard butterfly. Junior distance swimmer Tyler Fleming joined the two in qualifying for the Class A meet.
Corsaro said depth has been an issue, but pointed to senior Elijah Congi as one of the keys to keeping the team competitive.
“He’s not somebody you’ll see in the paper,” Corsaro said. “But he’s improved so much for us and is one of our hardest workers.”
Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.