NEFFSVILLE – A gassed Falcon.
A Cedar sapling.
A fighting Dutchman.
But where were the conquering Vikings?
On Saturday at Manheim Township High School, during the completion of the two-day, 26th edition of the Lancaster-Lebanon League Wrestling Championships, a strong contingent of Lebanon County competitors enjoyed more success, just in a different way. Two local student-athletes – Annville-Cleona senior Matt Inman and Lebanon freshman Griffin Gonzalez – earned weight-class championships, while a third, T.J. Moore of Cedar Crest, captured a silver medal.
But conspicuous by its absence was a Northern Lebanon program which had dominated at this event in recent years. The Vikings didn’t qualify a single wrestler for the finals and finished well behind champion Hempfield in the team standings.
After pinning his way to the championship bout at 220 pounds, a visibly winded Moore endured a 4-3, overtime loss to Dustin Swanson of Garden Spot in their championship match.
Gonzalez, who was representing a Lebanon High program not known for its proficiency in the sport, completed his run through the 120-pound weight-class bracket with a 6-2 championship victory over Jared Fulton of Solanco. Inman, a two-time state qualifier, nudged Lancaster Catholic’s Eric Howe 5-3 in overtime of their title bout at 113 pounds.
“We’re getting towards the end of the season,” said Inman, who repeated his league championship from a year ago. “We’re getting tougher and tougher tournaments. Winning this tournament is great, but the competition helps me prepare for the even bigger tournaments.
“My goal, ever since I was little, was to be on the (medal) podium at states,” continued Inman. “I feel this year is my best shot. It’s my top priority.”
Inman scored his championship-securing takedown 26 seconds into the extra sessions. Trailing Howe 3-2, Inman recorded an escape with 1:06 left in regulation to force overtime.
Inman had registered the initial takedown of the bout, in the first period. But Howe countered with a reversal in the middle stanza.
“I was confident I was going to be able to get out,” said Inman of his third-period escape. “I feel like I have a good step-out. In overtime, I was trying to be physical and shoot low. I knew from the first period that I could take him down.
“I wrestled him earlier in the season,” added Inman. “It was close then, so I knew this was going to be a physical match. This was my first time at 113 this season. It’s a tough weight class. By the time I got to the semifinals and finals, I was feeling good. Overall, I thought I did a good job.”
In opening a 6-1 lead on Fulton, Gonzalez notched a takedown in the first period, a reversal in the second period and a takedown in the third. He had reached the title tilt at 120 with two earlier major decisions and a first-period fall.
“I knew it was going to be a tough match,” said Gonzalez of the final. “Taking him down in the first period, I wanted to get the lead. In the second period, I went ‘down’ (to start the period) and got to my feet. My goal was to win. My plan was to go out and wrestle to the end.
“Each match I’m getting better,” Gonzalez continued. “I’m pretty happy with the way I wrestled, but I think I can do better. For the rest of the year, I want to win sectionals, go to districts and go on from there.”
With a league championship and an overall record of 25-1, it’s pretty safe to say that Gonzalez is enjoying one of the most successful starts to a career, in the history of the Lebanon High wrestling program.
“I didn’t expect to be 25-1 at this point,” said Gonzalez, who’s been wrestling since he was six years old. “I’m just going to try and improve on it. High school wrestling is definitely different. The guys are a lot older and some guys are pretty strong.”
Moore fell to Swanson with four seconds left in overtime, after being penalized for stalling for the second time in the match. It was an earlier stalling point in the third period that had sent the bout to OT.
Moore started quickly, with an early reversal. Then after Swanson had used a couple of escapes to tie the score at two, Moore worked one of his own to forge a 3-2 edge.
As for Northern Lebanon, Brandon Breidegan was third at 132 pounds, Nick Winters copped a bronze medal at 152 pounds, Ethan Walmer came in fourth at 160 pounds and Owen Lehman was fourth at 106 pounds. The Vikings, who recently claimed their eighth straight L-L Section Three title, had finished either first or second at the last five Lancaster-Lebanon League Championships.
“I don’t know the last time we didn’t have someone in the finals. It’s been a while,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace, whose squad will compete in the District Three Class AA team tournament this week. “But we had seven guys on the podium. That’s a pretty good number. We had some rough bouts last night (Friday). We had some matches that didn’t go our way.
“We use this as a tool,” Wallace added. “It’s a big tournament, with 23 schools, and we use it as practice for bigger tournaments. It’s nice for AA schools like us to compete against all those AAA teams. I never have any expectations with this event. I want the guys to wrestle hard for six minutes and grind out a two-day tournament.”
Elco’s Keegan Donmoyer finished fourth at 138 pounds