The Niagara-Wheatfield wrestling team, ranked as the best in Western New York almost across the board, may not get the chance to represent Section VI at the state tournament.
The Section VI Duals, which were scheduled to take place today, have been cancelled due to the incoming snowstorm. Despite being ranked first among Section VI large schools by the New York State Sportswriters Association, ArmDrag.com and the WNY poll, the undefeated Falcons are third in the section's official points-based system. With no time to make up the duals ahead of Sunday's state selection meeting, the top large school in Section VI by points, Olean, automatically earned the state bid.
"If we aren't able to compete our event, we still have to send a representative," said Section VI large school wrestling chairman Israel Martinez, the former Niagara Falls coach. "... The point system keeps it from getting political."
The point system scores teams on a number of factors, including head-to-head, dual competitions. The Falcons eschew most dual-style tournaments throughout the season, according to coach Rick Sweney, often opting to instead hit the road to take part in individual tournaments against regional competition.
While the big individual tournaments allow N-W's grapplers to battle top opponents, they keep the the team from racking up head-to-head dual wins, limiting its chances to accrue sectional points.
Still, the Falcons finished just one point behind Olean and Clarence for the top seed in Section VI. Olean was awarded the tiebreaker due to its unbeaten record. N-W likely would have been the top seed if not for one of its opponents in the Cheektowaga Duals, the lone dual-style tournament N-W took part in this year, dropping out.
"If that team was there and we beat them, we'd be the top seed," Sweney said. "Because they weren't, we're No. 3."
The New York State Public High School Athletic Association does award at-large bids, though typically they only go to teams whose sections hosted a dual tournament, Martinez said. Because Section VI's tournament was cancelled due to weather, the NYSPHSAA is allowing it to submit a bid on behalf of N-W.
The at-large applications must be submitted by today, and the state committee will select at-large bids based on a points-based system similar to the one Section VI uses. The selections will be announced Sunday.
The Falcons' best shot lies in the strength of their roster. Points are awarded based on how each school's top 15 wrestlers performed last season, and the Falcons' McDougald brothers, junior Justin and senior Warren, earned second- and third-place finishes in last year's state tournament. N-W also has two other returning sectional champions in eighth-grader Collin Coughenour and senior Josh Thibeault.
"With two returning state place finishers, they're going to score some points," Martinez said.
Martinez said the section will look into moving the dual tournament to an earlier date next year to provide a chance to make it up in the event of another cancellation.