BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – Whether or not Sean Hughes was the Outstanding Wrestler was the subject of great debate and conjecture. That the Elco Raiders were the outstanding team was much less subjective.
Hughes, a Cedar Crest senior, and perenial-power Elco were the stars Saturday at the 18th annual Lebanon County Wrestling Championships, contested at Cedar Crest High School. But they certainly weren’t the only celestial bodies to shine.
Hughes was honored as the tournament’s unofficial ‘OW’ by grabbing the championship of the 120-pound weight class with five pins. The deep and balanced Raiders, meanwhile, captured their eighth straight County team title – and ninth overall – by besting runner-up Palmyra by 30 points.
Annville-Cleona was third and Cedar Crest fourth, followed by Northern Lebanon and Lebanon.
“Everything went well,” said Elco head coach Chad Miller. “Realistically, we wrestled real well. There were only a couple of bouts that we didn’t win that we should have. Our team is just so balanced. We pretty much packed someone on the podium at every weight.”
The County title erased some of the sting of the Raiders being edged for the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three crown by Donegal. Elco produced four Lebanon County champions – Dylan Hickernell at 195, Tommy Price at 160, Zach Layser at 138 and Zach Carley at 195.
“This isn’t the best team we’ve had,” said Miller. “It’s solid. But it’s as good as any team we’ve had. It’s not like we walked out of here with half of the champions. We had a lot of seconds and thirds.
“We never forfeitted a weight in 14 years of competing in this tournament,” Miller added. “We always put someone out there, which is why we’ve done so well here.”
Four of Hughes’ five pins came in the opening period, while the fifth occurred in the second. Hughes, who finished second at last month’s Lancaster-Lebanon League championships, improved to 32-5 on the campaign.
“Yeah, I feel like I wrestled well today,” said Hughes. “Coming into Counties, it’s a big tournament so I had to perform well.
“For me, this is momentum into sectionals (next weekend),” Hughes continued. “I want to win sectionals and place at districts, so I can hopefully make it to states. I don’t think about who I wrestle. I just wrestle my own match.”
Hughes’ 5-0 day also moved him to 112-31 for his career, and to within a single victory of Cedar Crest’s all-time victory mark.
“One more and I tie the school record,” said Hughes. “Last year, Brent Balmer came up to me and said, ‘I hope you break my record’. So that kind of motivated me.
“If I could do that I would be at a loss for words,” added Hughes. “When I started in elementary school, I never would’ve thought I was going to break the record. But it was just dedication, and things happened.”
“He didn’t have very much competition,” said Miller of Hughes. “But I don’t think there was a strong weight class from top to bottom. He (Hughes) was good, but (Cedar Crest’s Cody) Lloyd didn’t have a bad tournament either.
“I would just say Dylan (Hickernell) was the outstanding wrestler because we bumped him up 15 pounds,” Miller added. “But I wouldn’t be upset if someone said Hughes or Lloyd was the outstanding wrestler.”
Lloyd made his case for the award by claiming the 145-pound weight class in dominating fashion. The reigning Lancaster-Lebanon League champ at that weight, Lloyd ran his season record to 33-4 and his career mark to 103-36.
In what was perhaps the bout of the day, Hickernell, competing at 195 pounts, dispatched Palmyra’s Jake Lehman 7-3. Lehman came in at 24-5, but fell behind Hickernell 7-1 in the third period.
The win was the undefeated Hickernell’s 35th straight. No other Raider has ever opened the season with that many consecutive victories.
“We bumped Hickernell up to get him some tough matches, even though he was giving up 15 pounds,” Miller said. “It’s tough with a strong kid (Lehman) like that.
“He’s (Hickernell) just strong, solid and quick,” Miller continued. “He’s not easy to score on, and he’s slick. He enjoys scoring points. He’d rather get a technical fall than a pin.”
Other highlights of the day included Northern Lebanon senior Ryan Daub, already a member of the century-win club, going 5-0 and garnering the 170-pound weight-class title. Daub’s teammate, heavyweight Anthony Deyo, also claimed a championship and collected his 24th win of the season, after registering just five last year.
“Those two guys had pretty good days,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace. “We figured Daub would go 5-0. He wrestled solid and didn’t give up a lot of points today.”
Annville-Cleona grabbed gold in four of the first five weight classes, as Matt Darok at 103, Tanner Pyles at 113, freshman Jeffrey Inman at 126 and T.J. Renninger at 132 all took home first-place hardware.
Cedar Crest’s Mike Fiore took top honors at 152, while Cougar Ben Martin ruled the 220-pound weight class.