by Dan Farfaglia
Tonight’s match between Fulton and Phoenix marks the 12th “showdown” between these two teams in their short but very intense rivalry.
The Firebirds never came close to beating Fulton until the 2006 Section III Duals quarterfinals when Fulton’s Matt Bogardus won a major decision in the final bout to give Fulton a 30-29 win.
Including that dual, these two teams have met a total of 11 times since with Fulton holding an edge on the series six to five. This intense and exciting rivalry has come down to the last bout of the dual determining the winner seven out of 11 meetings.
Last season, the Raiders emerged from the Birds nest with a 36-34 win but lost to the Firebirds in the finals of the Section III Duals 33-32.
Tonight’s match at G. Ray Bodley High School is expected to be every bit as exciting as the last eleven.
Both schools have been hit hard by graduation. The Firebirds graduated state champion Tyler Button and three-time sectional champ Austyn Hayes. Both are now wrestling for Edinboro University.
Fulton graduated state tournament place-finisher Adam Wallace and two sectional champions in Nick Woodworth and Tony Torrese.
The Firebirds are led this year by Rowdy Prior (152 pounds) and New York State Champion Nick Tighe (138 pounds).
Other standouts for Phoenix include Nate Dietz (145 pounds), Justin Rhodes (160 pounds), Brad Dietz (120 pounds) and Mike Mironti (145 pounds).
Fulton is lead by two-time Section III Champion Tommy Hill (120 pounds) and Section III Tournament finalist Mitch Woodworth (113 pounds).
Other Fulton standouts are Joey Abelgore (99 pounds), Austin Whitney (126 pounds), Brandon Hill (132 pounds) and Brennan Roberge 285 (pounds).
This is the first “showdown” dual for the Raiders’ new head coach, Chris Stalker. He replaced Hall of Fame Coach Mike Conners a few months ago as the Fulton program’s leader.
Veteran Coach Gene Mills has turned Phoenix into a wrestling powerhouse since his arrival a decade ago. His teams have been consistent contenders for league, sectional and state recognition.
Phoenix has been ranked in the state rankings for the Small School Division for the past eight seasons winning a state title in 2008 and 2012.