FALCONER - If P.J. Wendel put Falconer wrestling back where it belonged - back on top, that is - then his successor, Drew Wilcox, kept it there.
No easy task when you're already king of the mountain.
When Wilcox, who was a Falconer assistant coach for five years, took over head coaching duties for Wendel, he was inheriting a program that was coming off one of its best seasons in a decade. Not only had the Golden Falcons gone unbeaten (along the way they edged Fredonia, something they hadn't managed in nearly half a decade), but they had also captured a Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association Division 1 crown for the first time in five years, had been named Western New York's top small school and had, to cap it all off, been selected by the New York State Sportswriters Association as the 18th-best squad in the state.
Falconer coach Drew Wilcox encourages his Golden Falcons in their victory over Fredonia to capture the CCAA Division 1 title.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Needless to say, there were high expectations for Falconer heading into this season - regardless of the fact that its coach was taking the reins for the first time.
"I felt some pressure," Wilcox admitted, "especially after the success we'd had (the year before)."
Whatever pressure he may have felt, however, didn't show; nor did it have any ill effects on the squad's performance throughout the year. In fact, Wilcox was able to not only match the accomplishments of the previous year, but exceed them.
Despite that, however, he is quick to defer credit.
"I had a great staff," he said. "At the beginning of the year we set goals and accomplished most of them. You could bring anybody in here (and he'd be successful) given the kind of work ethic these kids have."
Fredonia coach Alex Conti highlighted Wilcox's quality assistants as a sign of his being a first-rate head coach.
"He surrounded himself with great people," the Fredonia coach said. "I can't say enough good things about Danny Morales, and to have good assistants like Morales and to bring in people like Red (Childress), Paul (Peru) and Jeff Waddington and allow them to be the great teachers that they are, that shows a lot of confidence and poise in his coaching ability."
Together coach, assistants and wrestlers had a memorable season - for Wilcox, it was a Post-Journal Coach of the Year worthy season.
The honor went to Wendel last year.
Among Wilcox and his Falconer squad's accomplishments were yet another unbeaten league season that culminated in a CCAA Division 1 title; a hard-fought, 39-35, victory over Fredonia (only the Hillbillies' second league loss in as many seasons); a convincing Patrick J. Morales Memorial Wrestling Tournament victory, the Golden Falcons' third straight and fourth in five years; and a Section 6 Class D title, where a whopping 14 of the 15 Falconer competitors placed in the top four of their respective weight classes and earned a trip to the Section 6 division 2 state qualifier.
Oh, Falconer also earned another No. 1 small-school ranking in Western New York and a No. 13 ranking in the state in the final NYSSWA poll.
"I'm not only impressed, but pleased with what he accomplished," Conti said, "because I know how much he cares about both team success and development. He did all the right things to accomplish what he accomplished."
One more thing sets Wilcox apart from the rest - his strategic mind.
"As far as match preparation goes," Wendel said, "there is nobody better than Drew. He's the best anywhere."
It was that match preparation, and ability to pinpoint key matches and work them to the Golden Falcons' advantage that led Falconer past then-unbeaten Fredonia yet again.
"To beat Fredonia two years in a row," Wendel continued, "that's great. That had a lot to do with Drew and his match preparation. Up to that point, Fredonia had been rolling teams, but Drew got the kids ready, put them where they needed to be and they stepped up."
"He does his own work matching people and thinking outside the box. When (Falconer) wrestled us, he did a fantastic job of placing people where they needed to be and getting guys to perform - which is not an easy thing to do."
All in all, it turned out to be just about the best first season a coach could ask for.
"For them to come through (the way they did), that's huge," Conti said. "And (Wilcox) definitely deserves to be commended for that. My hats off to him for the very impressive run, and the very impressive finish."