BY MIKE MEILER
Niagara Gazette — Behind a strong returning group, the Niagara-Wheatfield boys swimming team is looking to do more than defend last year’s Niagara Frontier League title this season. This year’s Falcons are looking to match the success of the program’s glory days.
Entering the new season on a 28-meet winning streak that spans the last two NFL seasons, the Falcons are entering the neighborhood of the 48-meet undefeated streak they had five years ago.
“We had a pretty good run a couple years ago,” N-W coach Mike Casaro said. “Obviously, we’d like to get back to that.”
Leading the way for the Falcons will be senior Josh Miller, who broke the school’s 5-year-old record in the 100-meter butterfly in the team’s opening meet on Tuesday.
Joining him will be fellow seniors Jared Franciosa and diver T.J. Bradfield-MacKenzie, junior Dan Peltier and sophomores Jack Jibb, Tyler Fleming and Josh Pittman.
Miller, who naturally swims the backstroke, asked Casaro to try the butterfly before this season.
“He’s a dedicated kid, and he puts so much into it,” said Casaro about Miller, who’s been swimming varsity since seventh grade. “He’s academically brilliant. He’s a super student, a super athlete and our team captain.”
The Falcons do face some question marks, though. This year’s roster (31 boys) is down from 44 last year. Casaro said he worries about shrinking numbers in the future due to the loss of the modified program, which was cut this season due for budgetary reasons.
“We tend to have a lot of kids who come out, but that might change without a modified team,” he said. “I worry sometimes that kids might not think they’re good enough to come out for varsity or junior varsity. … We take everyone, and we’ll work with kids who want to try.”
Despite its recent success, Casaro knows his team will face tough competition over its league schedule.
“Across the league, there’s a lot of good swimmers and a lot of good teams,” he explained. “It’s very competitive. Every team out there is good, and every coach out there is good.”
The Wolverines will look to rebuild this season after losing half of last year’s roster to graduation, including Austin Devlin (NU), Sam DiLaura (NU) and Kyle Daly, who are all swimming in college this year.
Highlighting the team will be senior diver Jaron Williams, who missed qualifying for states by eight points last season.
“He’s working hard at it,” coach Ed Maynard said. “He’s cleaning things up, but it’s a long season. Divers can only qualify at the NFL championship or class or sectional championships. He’s got a little while to get where he wants to be.”
Also leading the team will be senior Spencer Ventresca, who is co-captain with Williams.
“We’ve got a very young team,” Maynard said. “The average grade of our JV team is 8.4, and the average of our varsity team is 9.6. We have a lot of talent, but it’s tough when you’re swimming freshmen against seniors.
“They’ll have their time, but this year is going to be a major rebuilding year.”
The Lancers return two members of sectional relay teams in senior Collin Kemeny and junior Mitch Sembert. They also return junior diver Ryan Monteleone, who finished 11th at states last year.
“Based off the kids who graduated, he should be top 5 in the state this year,” L-P coach Josh Janese said. “The bar has been set pretty high. We’re not just focused on him making states, we’re focused on putting him in position to win states as a senior.”
As the smallest school in the NFL, the Lancers face an uphill battle in most sports because of lower numbers. Janese said he expects the talent level on his team to reflect better with success at sectional races and home meets, where the four-lane pool helps make up for the difference in roster size.
“I have a small team, but I have four or five kids that should be right with anybody,” Janese said. “Based off last year, we should be right with them at the end.”
Like Niagara Falls, the Vikings face a rebuilding year of their own. Gone are seniors Seth Carey and Corey Price (RIT), who won a lot of races for Grand Island last year.
Coach Joe Mentor has only two seniors on his team in Matt Seaman and Chris Serrah, both of whom are in their fourth years on the team.
The good news is that the team’s sophomore class, highlighted by Jordan Piershalski, Ian Eisenberger, Steven White and Tim Winder, has already started making noise. In Tuesday’s opening loss against senior-laden Kenmore West, Piershalski (breaststroke) and Winder (backstroke) won the Vikings’ only two races.
“We definitely have a shot at being competitive,” Mentor said, “but it’s looking like it could be a rebuilding year of sorts.”
The Spartans return three key parts of last year’s ECIC II and Section VI Class B champions. Senior A.J. Joslin and juniors Robbie Luckman and Alec Toth are swimmers with state experience that highlight a deep roster that competes against some of the top programs in Western New York.
Gone are Luke Martinec and Matt Schutt, who finished second in the 100-meter breaststroke in states last year, but expected contributions from senior Bobby Adams, sophomore Drew Howard and freshman Andrew Luckman, Alex Stead and Lester Wagner have head coach Tim Menges excited about this year’s possibilities.
“We had a great season last year,” Menges said. “We graduated a lot of seniors and I’m looking forward to working with a younger team this year.
“Twenty of our 27 guys are sophomores or younger. We had a lot of freshmen who swam varsity as eighth graders last year that I expect big things from this season.”
Menges said Joslin, Luckman and Toth should be key components of his relays, which he expects to be a strength for his team. All three participated in relays at the state championships last year, and Toth has swam the 200- and 500-meter freestyles the past two seasons. Menges said each has a shot at making it in individual races this year.
The Spartans’ first meet is this Tuesday at Clarence against one of the top programs in Western New York.
“We swim against all the big schools,” Menges said. “It was something we did for the first time last year, but I think it helped us tremendously, especially when we got to the postseason. It’s definitely a barometer of where we’re at.”