BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – It’s sort of like enjoying a home cooked meal before going off to war. What better way to prepare for the most important part of a season – or career – than rolling around with your neighbor, your brother in grappling.
On Saturday at Annville-Cleona High School, local wrestlers with varying expectations tuned up for the impending postseason by competing with and against one another at the 21st annual Lebanon County Championships. With Northern Lebanon off competing in the PIAA Class AA team tournament, Elco and a pair of seasoned wrestlers from Cedar Crest and Annville-Cleona took the Vikings’ absence as an opportunity to shine.
Elco earned the team championship of the tournament by piling up 353 points, a total that was five better than the host Little Dutchmen’s 348. Lebanon was third with 238 team points, followed by Palmyra and Cedar Crest.
The outcome extended the Raiders’ record for Lebanon County team championships to ten. Elco last captured a title in 2012, when it won the final of eight in-a-row.
“This is our tenth championship, and this is our 17th year of competing in this tournament,” said Elco head coach Chad Miller. “It goes back to filling a lineup. All the Elco teams I’ve coached, we’ve had a lot of guys and we filled a lineup. And we put people in right places. Coming in we knew it was us and Annville-Cleona. For us, we wanted to win it because it’s a tournament. I don’t like to lose, personally.
“This is the most positive thing that happened for us today: we all showed up and made weight,” continued Miller. “That’s what made it for us today. That is the biggest thing in this tournament.”
The Raiders rode individual titles by Alex Puglio at 113 pounds, Austin Eldridge at 120 pounds, Randy Winersohl at 145 and heavyweight Wes Bankus to the team championship. But it may have been Elco’s overall depth that mattered most.
Aldridge piled up 40 team points at a 120-pound weight class that the Little Dutchmen did not field a competitor. Raider Justin Kegerise wrestled his first career varsity match at 106, and by so doing, earned ten points for his team.
“By showing up, he (Kegerise) he gave us ten points,” said Miller. “That was the big difference. I think it was a successful day. In a way, Northern Lebanon not being here was like: ‘Hey, we can win some things’. But Northern Lebanon not being here also takes away from it. They won three matches at the state tournament, and that’s something for Lebanon County.
“If Northern Lebanon comes with most of their team, they beat us up pretty good,” Miller continued. “They have a talented team, and a hard-working team. They (the Vikings) should’ve won it last year. If they have their full team. yeah, they win it. But I thought it was nice that Lebanon had a really good showing.”
The Lebanon County Wrestling Championships has never named an Outstanding Wrestler for its tournament. But if it had this year, Annville-Cleona’s Josh Renninger and Cedar Crest’s Jarell Howard-Griffin would’ve been in the running for the award.
Howard-Griffin garnered the 182-pound weight class in dominant fashion. Howard-Griffin, a first-year transfer from C.D. East, went 4-0 on the day and improved his seasonal record to 28-9.
“My goal was to get first,” said Howard-Griffin. “I felt like I wrestled aggressive today. I set up my shots and wrestled well on top. My game plan is just to be aggressive. If I would’ve gotten an outstanding wrestler award I’d be happy about it. I think I earned it.
“This tournament is important to show that Lebanon is a good area to wrestle,” added Howard-Griffin. “My goal from here on out is just to get to districts. I feel like I’m on a path to get there. I just have to keep wrestling aggressive.”
“I’ll tell you the kid who was the outstanding wrestler,” said Miller. “The Cedar Crest 182-pounder impressed me the most. He was third at the (Lancaster-Lebanon) league tournament and he was dominant today. He didn’t stop. That might have been the most solid weight class, and he just mauled his opponents.”
“My wrestler would’ve been the Cedar Crest 182-pounder,” said Renninger. “He impressed me. I saw him wrestle and he’s a good, quality wrestler.”
Renninger captured the 132-pound weight class, also by running the table. Renninger ran his personal record to 32-8, and along the way picked up the 100th win of his career.
“If I would’ve been named the outstanding wrestler the first thing I would’ve said was, ‘Thanks!’,” said Renninger. “I’d be shocked, surprised and a little bit happy. But I think I’d be deserving, because I work hard and I’m always in the weight room. In the off-season, I’m staying with it all the time.
“Things went as expected today,”Renninger added. “I figured I’d come out on top. I kind of felt it today. I was definitely in the right mind set, focused and taking it one match at a time. My current record is better than the one I took into sectionals last year. My goal is to qualify for the state tournament. I’m just going to have to work, harder and harder everyday.”
Joining Renninger on the top rung of the medal stand were Annville-Cleona teammates Brandon Light, the winner of the 195-pound weight class, 170-pounder Jon Zechman, Mark Wagner, who struck gold at 160 pounds and Matt Darok, who went 4-0 at 138 pounds.
Lebanon High competitors Ben Kutz and Jose Barrios were crowned Lebanon County champions at 152 pounds and 106, respectively. Cedar Crest’s Trevor Leonard took top honors at 126 pounds, while Leo Higgins of Palmyra captured the 220-pound weight-class title.
“I wouldn’t say it’s growing,” said Miller of the state of Lebanon County wrestling. “We don’t have more participants. But as far as teams at the top, we’re as strong as ever. Between Annville-Cleona and Northern Lebanon elevating their programs, they’ve made our county stronger.”
LEBANON COUNTY WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Past Team Champions
2015 – Elco
2014 – Annville-Cleona
2013 -Northern Lebanon
2012 – Elco
2011 – Elco
2010 – Elco
2009 – Elco
2008 – Elco
2007 – Elco
2006 – Elco
2005 – Elco
2004 – Northern Lebanon
2003 – Cedar Crest
2002 – Lebanon
2001 – Elco
2000 – Palmyra
1999 – Palmyra
1998 – Palmyra
1997 – Palmyra
1996 – Palmyra
1995 – Palmyra