By David Yarger
There’s only a few days left in 2018, but looking back … what a year it has been for Niagara-Wheatfield athletics. 2018 saw a majority of Falcons sports teams accomplish winning records, some of which included Niagara Frontier League and Section VI championships. Some teams and individuals were even fortunate enough to reach the state finals.
In addition to athletic success, the school showed its ability to come together as a community during certain circumstances in 2018.
The following is a look back at some of the highlights and events put on by Niagara-Wheatfield athletics in 2018.
N-W boys basketball “Pink-out” game
One of the first events of 2018 at Niagara-Wheatfield was “Pink-out” night put on by the Falcons boys basketball team.
In a game versus Lewiston-Porter, the two teams, as well as a packed house in attendance, came together to show their support for the Miller family as coach Steve Miller’s wife, Krista, a teacher at Edward Town Middle School, was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.
The teams both wore pink T-shirts on the bench and during warmups donning a breast cancer ribbon with the saying “Team Miller,” and below it “#FalconFamily.”
The showing was just the first sign of community support seen in 2018, and was a successful showing to support a close friend of the “Falcon Family.”
The N-W boys basketball team poses with coach Steve Miller and his wife, Krista. (Photo by David Yarger)
Girls basketball raises money for diabetes
Throughout the team’s season, the Falcons girls basketball team raised money at home games for the American Diabetes Association to help send three kids to Camp Aspire – located 15 miles from Rochester. Camp Aspire is a place that “allows campers to feel at ease and ‘accepted’ in a community where having diabetes is the rule, not the exception.” The effort was spearheaded by senior Kelsey Lachowski, who deals with type 1 diabetes on a daily basis. Lachowski and the team successfully surpassed the $2,000 goal, and in selfless fashion, the three children were able to attend the camp.
N-W girls basketball coach, far right, stands next to Kelsey Lachowski, as the team presents a check for the American Diabetes Association. (Photo by David Yarger)
Community comes together for Ziggy
The Niagara-Wheatfield community was also faced with tragedy this past year. The school lost a fellow classmate, teammate and friend in Michael Ziegler, who was a member of the football, wrestling and lacrosse teams. Upon the unforeseen and tragic news, the community came together to support the Ziegler family. On a cold, snowy Friday night in March, students and families from Niagara-Wheatfield and across Niagara County came to Terry Harvey Field to join in a candlelight vigil and a 42-balloon launch in remembrance of Ziegler. One of the most tremendous scenes of the night came after weather prevented candles from being lit, so attendees pulled out their cellular devices and shined a light for all to see. In all, an estimated 500-plus people attended, and following the vigil, nearly $20,000 was raised to aid the family. “Ziggy” is remembered throughout N-W, and using his athletic number “42,” many students still use the hashtag on social media, #FlyHigh42.
Over 500 people gather for a candlelight vigil to remember the life of Michael Ziegler. (Photo by David Yarger)
N-W hockey makes state final run
The Falcons hockey team took the entire community on an incredible near three-week journey. After defeating Williamsville North, 2-0, to win its sixth Section VI large schools final, the Falcons embarked on a journey to its first-ever New York state finals. The team defeated North Rockland in the state semifinals, 4-0, just days after learning a close friend had passed away. The team was defeated in the state finals, 5-1, versus Victor, but the run the team made came right at a time when the N-W needed a lift during tough times.
Falcons hockey players skate towards their fan section after defeating Williamsville North in the Section VI large school final. (Photo by David Yarger)
Bald for Bucks game vs. Sabres alums
In March, staff from Niagara-Wheatfield gathered to face alumni of the Buffalo Sabres in a pickup game of basketball. The evening raised money for the Bald for Bucks Association in honor of the late James Campbell. A stellar amount of N-W staff donated during the game, as well, by getting a full buzz cut.
N-W faculty pose with members of the Sabres Alumni following its Bald for Bucks basketball game. (Photo by David Yarger)
Softball and baseball succeed on the diamond
Both the Falcons softball and baseball squads had successful seasons in 2018. The baseball team posted a 13-5 record, which included a nine-game winning streak, and after starting 0-2, the team finished up 13-3 in its last 16 games. Eight baseball players were also named to All-Niagara Frontier League teams.
Softball, meanwhile, finished 15-5 and reached the Section VI Class AA finals, before being defeated by Lancaster, 7-5. The Falcons also had seven players named to All-NFL teams, including Mackenzie Quider and Mikaela Milleville, who received All-WNY honors.
Top, Mackenzie Quider throws a pitch in the circle for the Falcons softball team. Bottom, Tommy Peltier toes the rubber for the baseball team. (Photos by David Yarger)
Girls track & field wins first NFL title
The girls track and field team posted a historic season in 2018. The Falcons won its first-ever NFL title after finishing the regular season meets with a 5-0 record and winning the NFL’s annual meet. The team also sent 14 girls to the Section VI meet, as well as Le’Gary Jackson, who reached the state meet. Additionally, the team had 19 runners named to All-NFL teams.
Le'Gary Jackson competes in the high jump this past spring. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Football opens ’18 with emotional tribute
Playing in its first game since the loss of teammate Michael Ziegler, the Niagara-Wheatfield football team opened the season in grand fashion versus North Tonawanda with a 48-0 win. On the field, two white-painted 42’s were seen on the N-W sideline, and before and after the game (and every game during the season) the team would gather around the 42 to come together as one. The game also opened with an emotional moment of silence for “Ziggy.” The best moment came from the leg of Preston Dolan, who kicked (ironically enough) a 42-yard field goal that bounced off the crossbar twice, and over for a successful attempt. Following the kick, majority of the team agreed that it was Ziggy who helped get the ball across.
The Falcons football team gathers around the painted No. 42 in honor of Michael Ziegler. (Photo by David Yarger)
Friday night lights back again
A popular event in 2017 was the first-ever night football game. In 2018, the Falcons brought the game back for homecoming. The game also resulted in a better result than 2017, as the Falcons defeated Kenmore West, 28-21, and improved their record to 4-1. The game was just the beginning to a fun two-days of homecoming activities.
The Falcons football team lines up for the national anthem before its Friday night lights homecoming game. (Photo by David Yarger)
Carlson and girls swim dominate NFL (again)
Another year, another season of domination from the Niagara-Wheatfield girls swimming and diving team. The Falcons won its fourth straight NFL title this past season, including a convincing victory at the NFL Meet by 70 points higher than the runner up, Lewiston-Porter. The team was led by junior Danielle Carlson, who won 20 out of 21 regular season races; won the 200 and 100 free races at the NFL Meet; and won the 200 free and finished third in the 100 Free at the Section VI Meet, which qualified her for the New York State Meet, where she finished 48th and 34th in the 200 and 100 free, respectively. The team also notched six spots on the All-NFL teams for the fall.
Danielle Carlson swims in a recent meet. (Photo by Larry Austin)
91 (and counting) for N-W golf
The boys golf team was back at it again this past season. The Falcons finished another undefeated (23-0) campaign – completing the season by winning its fifth straight NFL title with a league-best 407 at the NFL Tournament. Another undefeated season also increased the team’s winning streak to 91 matches. At the tournament, sophomore Anthony Delisanti medaled for the second-straight year, shooting a 1-over 73. Additionally, Nolan Codd finished second with a 76, Adam Liberti carded an 85, RJ Delisanti carded an 86 and Dom Rotunno and Chris Cacciatore each shot an 87.
The last time the team was handed a loss was at the NFL Tournament in 2014. The team’s last head-to-head match loss came on Oct. 13, 2013, and this writer was on the victorious Niagara Falls team (My senior year of high school – it’s been a while.) The winning streak ranks up near the top across the nation, according to coach Tim Codd.
Anthony Delisanti chips up and on to the green during a match this past season. (Photo by David Yarger)
Girls hockey debuts at N-W
Niagara-Wheatfield has been known for its boys hockey program, but in 2018 the school announced it joined with Starpoint, North Tonawanda and Lewiston-Porter to form a Niagara County girls hockey team. The team has a roster of 20 girls and plays against other girls Federation teams from across WNY. Madison Mallone netted the team’s first goal on Nov. 26, at the Hockey Outlet.
N-W soccer teams post successful campaigns
It was a good 2018 for Niagara-Wheatfield soccer. Despite a tough finish to the season for the boys squad, the team finished one of its best seasons with a 13-3 record. The team also reached the NFL championship game for the first time. The team also had eight players named to All-NFL teams.
The girls soccer team also posted a stellar season, finishing 13-5-1. The team also reached the Section VI Class A1 title game, before being defeated, 1-0. Like the boys, the girls also had eight players named to All-NFL teams.
Top, Samantha Maghrak defends Lewiston-Porter's Elle Schultz. Bottom, Jake Vallas looks to head the ball on net versus Grand Island. (Photos by David Yarger)
Football finishes strong with Funke Bowl
The football team finished one of its best season’s in 10-plus years with a win over Williamsville East, 22-8, in the Chuck Funke Bowl Class A1 finals. The Funke Bowl win was the team’s first since 2015. Fourteen players on the roster were honored as Class A all-stars.
The Falcons football team poses following its Chuck Funke Bowl win. (Photo by David Yarger)
Athletic greats honored
Niagara-Wheatfield unveiled its new Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as introduced five new members to it. The new Hall of Fame is now along the windows through the main hallway next to the cafeteria. The newest members introduced included Caitlin Attfield, Kristen Donato, Rashad Evans, Rich Kilgour and Angelo Malvestuto.
"Sugar" Rashad Evans accepts his plaque as he's introduced into the N-W Athletic Hall of Fame. (Photo by David Yarger)
Achtziger-Hughes posts dominant junior season
Victoria Achtziger-Hughes finished her 2018 with an impressive fall campaign on the girls cross country team. Achtziger-Hughes, a junior, finished undefeated in league meets, second at the NFL Championships, finished seventh out of 88 runners at the Section VI Class A meet and was a First Team All-NFL runner for the Falcons.
Victoria Achtziger-Hughes runs during the fall season at Beaver Island State Park. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Girls volleyball goes on adventure of a lifetime
Another crazy ride of a season that ranks right up with the boys hockey season was the 2018 Lady Falcons girls volleyball team. The girls finished unbeaten in matches and sets during the regular season on their way to their second straight NFL title. Additionally, the Lady Falcons won their first Section VI title and then followed it up with a Far West Regional win over Irondequoit, which clinched them a spot in the New York State Tournament. At states, the girls finished 3-3 in pool play, which clinched them a spot in the finals. Unfortunately for the team, despite coming two match point opportunities away from winning the programs first-ever state title, the team fell in five sets to Wantagh High School. The season was one of the best in N-W history.
From left, girls volleyball captains Jenna Sonnenberg, Danielle Brochey, Katelyn Kostiw and Mackenzie Franks pose with the team's Section VI championship plaque. (Photo by David Yarger)
Community welcomes home Falcons
Finishing off of the girls volleyball state title run; it was more or less what happened following the defeat that mattered. The state tournament was in Glens Falls, a five-plus-hour drive. While the Lady Falcons were on their way back to the school, the community began planning for a welcome home gathering at N-W. Within hours, local first response units were notified and several volunteer fire companies agreed to welcome the team back home with a parade. Waiting at the high school campus, in the cold and rain, was a plethora of N-W students, faculty and community members. As the team bus reached Reservoir State Park, it was greeted by the parade of fire trucks, which guided the team to the high school where everyone was waiting to show their appreciation for the team’s efforts. As the team bus pulled up close to the students, chants of “Let’s go, Wheatfield” echoed and the team exited the bus completely surprised. The gathering helped make a tough day a little better for the team.
The Falcons girls volleyball team poses with students who welcomed them back to school after the team's state finals appearance. (Photo by David Yarger)
In the Dec. 27 edition of the Tribune, three teams were mistakingly omitted from the year in review.
The boys wrestling team sent multiple members of its team to the state tournament in February. Justin McDougald finished in second place of the 126 pound weight class; pound class; and Warren McDougald finished third in the 145 pound class. Additionally, Jake DeWolf, Josh Thibeault and Collin Coughenour all qualified for the tournament as well.
The girls tennis team finished off another 14-0 season, including the Falcons' second-straight Niagara Frontier League title. The team was led by Nicole Guldin in first singles, Mackenzie Patterson in second singles, and Jocelyn Fike and Nikki Kwiatkowski in first doubles. Fike and Kwiatkowski didn't drop a single match this season and were named First Team All-NFL recipients.
The girls lacrosse team also saw its share of success this past season, reaching the Section VI Class B semifinals. The team was led by point leader Erin Wegrzyn, who posted 68 points, including 59 goals. Wegrzyn was a First Team All-Class B and Second Team All-WNY nominee.