NEWFANE — Jakob Lucinski seemed destined to be a wrestler. He was the only one who didn’t know.
He won two youth state championships growing up in Newfane, signaling he received the wrestling genetics that run deep in his family. His older brother, Andy, was a four-time Section VI champion and a two-time state finalist for the Panthers before graduating in 2021.
It seemed inevitable for Lucinski to follow along. But he didn’t have the same passion for the sport as Andy and quit. After two years away, the spark reignited while watching Andy compete at states.
He returned to the mat for Newfane’s modified team as a seventh-grader, and in his first two seasons on varsity, Lucinski compiled a 34-21 record and placed fourth at the Class C/D tournament as a sophomore in 2022. Whether it was time away from wrestling or he needed more time to develop physically, Lucinski wasn’t quite ready to match his brother’s early success.
What wasn’t hindering Lucinski was the pressure to live up to expectations and assumptions that he would match Andy’s prowess. And, last year, everything began to click for Lucinski.
He surpassed his career win total in one season, going 45-9, and instead of watching states, Lucinski competed for the first time. After winning the Section VI Division II 102-pound championship, Lucinski wrapped his season with a fourth-place finish at states.
Now 21-4 in his final high school season, Lucinski doesn’t have to worry about his brother’s reputation or if he’s living up to expectations. He’s just searching for his own legacy.
“I’ve kind of moved past that,” Lucinski said. “(Andy’s) wrestling at a D-I college now. He’s not me. I know what he’s done. Probably better than what I’m going to do. But I’m going to try to live up to it.”
By the time he was a freshman, Lucinski competed at 99 and 102 but only weighed 80 pounds. Newfane head coach Matt Lingle said Lucinski had the physical attributes and the knowledge all along but the transformation came down to wanting different results.
Since his trip to states, Lucinski has put his efforts into getting back and potentially competing for a state championship. Now wrestling at 108, Lucinski spent his summer doing extra sprints and added swimming to his routine, doing 100- and 200-meter swims for 35-40 minutes at the Lockport YMCA.
“He kind of kept sticking with what he was good at and his confidence grew,” Andy said. “I remember when I was a senior and he was a freshman, he was just kind of on the team. Throughout these past couple of years his confidence has grown as a wrestler. Watching him prepare for matches and watching him out on the mat, he’s definitely become way more professional about it.”
Newfane coach Matt Lingle could see a change in Lucinski last season also. He went from being someone who was just on the team and having to wrestle kids bigger and stronger to giving complete dedication to the sport.
In Lingle’s mind, the turning point came at the Windsor Christmas Tournament last year. He dropped two matches and placed fifth, but that’s where he thinks Lucinski became an elite wrestler. Afterwards, Lucinski won 18 of his 20 matches into the state semifinals.
“I think he realized the potential and athletic ability he has in wrestling and really bought in for his own sake,” Lingle said. “I think that’s what really was a turning point. I think he’s always (had) the natural ability and the mindset he has an internal fortitude to really kind of make wrestling something special. I think he owns it now.”
Andy was in attendance when his younger brother competed at states last year. As a big brother, he couldn’t be prouder of how Jakob handled the pressure of carrying on the family name and is excited to see what he can do this postseason with his confidence.
“I think he rose to the occasion,” Andy said. “Some kids, when the pressure’s on, they make it happen. … I told him, ‘You’re your own person now. You don’t have to live up to anything I’ve done. We’re two separate people.’”