BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – It was a devastating way to end a season.
It was a tragic way to end a career.
It was an unimaginable way to squelch a dream,
On Thursday morning at Hershey’s Giant Center, during the opening day of the 79th annual PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships, Northern Lebanon senior Luke Funck suffered an apparent scholastic-career-ending ankle injury, 15 seconds into his first-round bout with Meyersdale senior Christian Hutzell at 182 pounds. Unable to put weight on his left ankle, Funck gutted it out for another 1:27 before he ran out of injury time and was forced to default with 18 seconds left in the first period.
Funck entered the competition seemingly in great shape to make a run at only Lebanon County’s second state championship in the sport. The injury default relegated Funck to the consolation bracket in the Class AA 182-pound weight class, and at the time, the severity of the injury was unknown.
After being helped from the mat, Funck was seen in a wheelchair and with ice on his ankle in the hallway of Giant Center, headed for further medial attention. Text-messaged for comment later in the day, Funck promised to be back at Giant Center on Friday.
‘Wrestling or Watching?’ asked the interviewer. ‘Watching’, responded Funck.
If Funck is unable to go during Friday’s second-round of consolations, he will forfeit the final bout of his illustrious career. Funck, who has designs on wrestling at the next level, entered states as Southeast Region, District Three and Lancaster-Lebanon League champion.
Funck’s injury was the most unfortunate occurrence of what was a disappointing day for Northern Lebanon. The Vikings took six competitors to the PIAA Class AA tournament, and they went a combined 3-7.
“It’s hard,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace, unaware of the severity of the injury. “Wrestling’s a really cruel sport at times. Unfortunately, it’s part of it. I know how much he wanted to be here and to win. He’s resilient and a very tough kid. He’ll grow as a person having gone through this.
“He’s getting it looked at,” continued Wallace. “It’s unfortunate. It was one of those fluke things. My heart breaks for him.”
“When I went to plant, it just popped,” said Funck from the wheelchair.
From the opening whistle against Hutzell, Funck appeared to score an early take down. But in the course of the move, when he placed weight on his left leg he winced in pain. Funck fell to the mat and grabbed his left ankle.
After taking injury time, a hobbled Funk attempted to continue, but Hutzell took him down to the mat. And then after Hutzell cut him, he easily took Funck down again.
At one point, with Funck sprawled out on the mat, he cried out, ‘I can’t stand up’. Hutzell was leading 4-2 when all of Funck’s injury time elapsed.
“I didn’t see any of it,” said Wallace, after the bout. “He pushed off and heard a pop. We’re hoping it’s an ankle sprain. It’ll be a game-time decision.
“He was in deep (on Hutzell),” Wallace continued. “He was ready to score. Obviously, he’s a competitor. He didn’t want to have to default. It was tough for me to watch. He did what he could.”
“I don’t know if it got caught or what,” said Hutzell of Funck’s left foot. “It was strange. I didn’t want to hurt him. But he’s seeded first in the state. I’ve got to score points somehow.”
Funck, now 46-4, was one of the favorites to win the Class AA 182-pound title. Last year, as a junior, Funck finished fourth in the same weight class at the PIAA tournament.
Former Northern Lebanon star Jim Collins is the only Lebanon County wrestler to ever win a state championship.
“He was out of injury time,” said Wallace. “He couldn’t put any weight on it. He was defense-less. He couldn’t finish that match.”
Of the Vikings’ six state qualifiers, the only one to advance in the championship bracket was senior Trevor Leonard at 132 pounds. T. Leonard decked Brookville junior Donatae Constable at the 3:48 mark of their opening round bout.
“On his feet, he (Constable) didn’t do too much, but I couldn’t shoot on him,” said T. Leonard of his second consecutive trip to states. “Then I got that take down at the end of the first period and it boosted my confidence. I got him in a near-side cradle and pinned him. Last year definitely helped a lot. I knew I had to be more conditioned, that I couldn’t goof off if I wanted end-of-the-year results.
“I knew what the kid was going to do because one of my teammates wrestled him before,” added T. Leonard. “My game plan was go out and get the first take down and score as many points as possible. I want to get to the finals and have another shot at (Pequea Valley’s) Gabe miller, if he gets there.”
“Trevor wrestled a great match and got a fall,” said Wallace. “And hopefully put himself in position for a medal. He was in control of the match from the get-go. He was dominant on top. He dominated the match.”
Locked in a score-less battle with Constable, T. Leonard came up with the opening take down late in the first period. He eventually put Constable away with 12 seconds left in the middle period.
The result upped T. Leonard’s seasonal mark to 43-13. Six of those losses have come to Miller.
“When I saw the bracket, I was disappointed I wasn’t on the same side of the bracket as Gabe Miller,” said T. Leonard. “I definitely want to go up against him. I think I can beat him. I don’t really care who I go against, I want to get to the finals. Whoever’s in my way of getting to Gabe, I’m going to have to beat him.
“That’s (six losses to Miller) way too many,” T. Leonard added. “I don’t like counting them. The ones I lost to him by a lot of points, there were reasons. Some of the losses were me hurting myself. I learned from every match, and now I know what he’s going to throw at me.”
T. Leonard’s brother Colin stayed alive in the consolation bracket of the Class AA 120-pound weight class with a 4-0 whitewashing of Brian Dawson of HOPE for Hyndman. After falling 8-5 to John Wheeler of Northwestern in a preliminary bout, C. Leonard, now 37-19, tallied four third-period points to break a score-less deadlock with Dawson.
Viking senior Zach Kelly also recorded four third-period points, on his way to a 6-1 triumph over Mario Gordon of Notre Dame-GP in a consolation bout at 138 pounds. Kelly, now 42-10, had been relegated to the consolation bracket by a 10-0 loss to Ridgway’s Logan McClain in the opening round.
“It’s the state tournament in the toughest state in the country,” said Wallace. “It can be humbling.”
Viking 106-pounder Kyler Anspach saw his season concluded by an 11-4 setback at the hands of Burrell freshman Trent Valovichik. Anspach was pinned by Troy’s Sheldon Seymour at the 1:25 mark in his opener.
Northern Lebanon senior Hunter Wallace gave up a late take down in a 4-2 preliminary loss to Reynolds’ Derek Skeehan. Then in the 220-pound consolation bracket, Wallace was trailing 3-1 when he got pinned by Tyler Cook of Brookville, at the 3:25 mark.
“You just want to see kids move on, you want to see them compete,” said Rusty Wallace. “You want to see them have fun. This is the pinnacle of high school wrestling. Only one guy from each weight class is going to leave here happy. There’s a lot of good kids who are going to be done today. You want them to be happy with what they accomplished.”
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