BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – This season, the Northern Lebanon wrestling team has compiled a phenomenal list of all-time greatest accomplishments. And it may very well be that the Vikings saved their very best for last.
The Vikings qualified a total of seven competitors for the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships, which opened Thursday morning at Hershey’s Giant Center. Not only is that number a program record, but when you throw in an Annville-Cleona Little Dutchman and a Cedar Crest Falcon, it was also an all-time high for state qualifiers from Lebanon County – by about 200 percent.
Yesterday, the locale’s strongest state contingent met with mixed results. Led by Northern Lebanon, County competitors earned a single trip to the quarterfinals, while three others remained alive in the consolation halves of weight-class brackets, and four saw their seasons come to an end.
All things considered, Lebanon County went a combined 4-12 on the first day of states.
“Some ups and downs,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace. “It was a roller coaster. When you come here, there are no easy matches. There’s a tough kid every time you step on the mat. There were definite positives. We’re bringing some kids back. Last year, we left here without a win. That was sort of a bad feeling.
“You want all who are here to advance,” continued Wallace. “That’s the nature of the sport. You want to see them compete. You want to see the ones who are going out to go out, go out swinging. And I thought we did that.”
The only local competitor to reach the quarterfinals of his weight-class bracket was Northern Lebanon junior Luke Funck, at 182 pounds. Funck, the now 40-1 District Three Class AA and Southeast Regional champion, accomplished the feat by downing Meyersdale junior Christian Hutzell 8-3 in the opening round.
“He’s in the quarters,” said Wallace of Funck. “If he wins that first match tomorrow, he’s guaranteed at least sixth place, and a medal. That’s the goal. He wanted to leave here with a medal.”
Funck exploded for six second-period points to give himself some margin for error in the final stanza. Up until that point, he and Hutzell had been locked in a two-all stalemate.
“Luke’s good enough to beat anyone here,” said Wallace. “The best guy doesn’t always win. The guy who wrestles the best wins. He’s good enough to be better than anyone in his bracket for six minutes.”
Two other Vikings went 1-1 yesterday.
Senior Quinn Blatt began with a 16-6 triumph over Brandyn Beaver in the Class AA preliminaries at 170 pounds. But then in the quarterfinals, Blatt, now 41-11, suffered a 15-7 beat down from Towanda’s Dayton Wickwire.
Blatt’s junior teammate Trevor Leonard met with a similar fate at 132 pounds. Leonard scored a 4-2 preliminary victory over Mike Novak of Mount Pleasant, before absorbing a 15-0 technical fall at the hands of undefeated Taylor Ortz of Brookville in the quarterfinals.
T. Leonard is now 44-10 this season.
Also in Class AA, Annville-Cleona’s Josh Renninger kept his senior season going with an 11-9 win over Joe Swank of Berlin-Bros. Renninger, 40-6 overall, was relegated to the consolation bracket by a 4-2 opening-round setback to Creighton Edsell of Wyalusing.
“I don’t think the kids really think about that,” said Wallace of his team’s long list of achievements this year. “After the season’s over, I think they’ll appreciate it. When you look back now, those 13 medals at districts was a great accomplishment. Our kids just look at this as another tournament. We’ve kind of taken a business-as-usual approach. We want to go out and wrestle and compete.
“They understand it’s an individual event,” added Wallace. “It was nice to have seven guys in the practice room this week. We didn’t really do anything differently. They’re here and battling for one another, but this is about them right now. The guys we have left all have realistic shots at taking a medal home. We’ll be back at it tomorrow.”
During the Class AAA evening session, Cedar Crest senior Jerrell Howard-Griffin was relegated to the 182-pound consolations by a 13-3 setback to Southwestern champion Jake Woodley of North Allegheny. The 4-1 first-period deficit that Howard-Griffin faced turn into a 9-1 hole by the end of the second stanza.
For two Viking seniors, states proved to be their last stand.
Northern Lebanon 12th-grader Matt Vines saw his career come to an end with two losses in the Class AA 220-pound bracket. Vines was the victim of a 16-1, 3:52 technical fall by Rasaun Colbertson of South Fayette in the preliminaries, then was edged by Reynolds’ Cole Rickert 7-4 in the first round of consolations.
Northern Lebanon senior heavyweight George Thompson also went 0-2. Thompson was decked at the 3:25 mark by Keystone Oaks’ Joe Kazalas, before suffering a 7-4 loss to Southern Huntingdon’s Nick Winfield in wrestle backs.
“That’s hard. It’s emotional. It’s sentimental,” said Wallace. “Matt and George are two kids who have been a big part of our success. We got them off the football field as eighth graders. They’re pretty new to the sport. They’re both hurting pretty good right now. It’s important to me for them to know how important they are to me. They’re special kidsts.”
Another Leonard, 120-pound freshman Colin, closed out his campaign at 39-19. C. Leonard lost to Sam Sallot of Harborcreek in the preliminaries and 7-4 to Tyler Griffiths of Southmoreland in the consolations.
Meanwhile, Northern Lebanon sophomore Luis Negreiros had his season ended with a pair of tough losses at 160. Negreiros was edged 3-2 in overtime by South Allegheny’s Cody Jenkins, then was nudged 5-4 by Port Allegany’s Mac Tanner.
Negreiros finished 36-16.
“Our young kids battled,” smiled Wallace. “Colin and Luis, a freshman and a sophomore, got great experience for the future. They wrestled really hard. Luis was two points away from advancing, in both his matches. Colin lost, dropped down into the consys and had to wrestle a state place-winner from last year. Four of the seven guys we brought here are underclassmen.”
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