BY JEFF FALK
NEW HOLLAND – Yeah, it would’ve been nice to win it. Yeah, it was a tough pill to swallow.
But at this point, the Northern Lebanon wrestling program has seen it all. And the strength of the Vikings is founded in their ability to take everything in stride.
On Saturday afternoon at Garden Spot High School, Northern Lebanon finished as the runner-up by the slimmest of margins in the team competition at the annual Lancaster-Lebanon League Wrestling Championships. The team title came down to the final match of the two-day tournament, and the Vikings were relegated to second when Manheim Central’s Tyler Dougherty pinned Zach Shelley of Lampeter-Strasburg in the championship bout at heavyweight.
Dougherty’s fall gave the Barons the overall team championship, by a point over Northern Lebanon, 184.5 to 183.5. Four finals bouts earlier, Viking senior Ethan Herb had vaulted Northern Lebanon into first place in the team standings with an 11-1 triumph over Lebanon’s Dallin Ocasio in the 170-pound weight class championship.
Herb’s was the second individual title of the tournament for Northern Lebanon, after fellow senior Colin Leonard had scored an 8-4 victory over Seth Hoopes of Octorara in the championship match at 126 pounds. The only other Lebanon County competitor to strike L-L League gold was Annville-Cleona’s Matt Inman at 113, where he nudged Jackson Houghton of Solanco 6-3 in the finals.
Viking Brandon Breidegan reached the final bout at 120 pounds, but was steamrolled by Manheim Central juggernaut Will Betancourt in 1:04.
For the Vikings, it was their second runner-up finish to Manheim Central in as many years. Northern Lebanon, which earlier in the season captured its seventh straight L-L Section Three crown, has now finished either first or second in the last seven league tournaments.
“You just swallow it,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace. “You can’t focus on the negatives. We had some matches get away from us, matches we could’ve won. But we had some matches that we were probably fortunate to win.
“I don’t ever compare one team or another,” continued Wallace. “Every one is different. Every year is different. The years we won this tournament, we had kids who just wrestled. Now we have guys who play multiple sports. It’s the team we have now. We graduated a ton of kids from last year’s team. Almost all of the teams here are (Class) AAA, and we’re AA. There’s a lot of positives to be taken from it.”
Needing to win against Ocasio and needing to score extra points for the team, Herb opened a 2-0 lead in the final at 170 pounds with a late first-period take-down. Then early in the second period, Herb padded his lead to 4-0 with another take-down.
“I didn’t know anything about him,” said Herb of Ocasio. “You’ve just got to wrestle who’s there. You’ve got to wrestle tough. I felt pretty comfortable. I’ve just got to stay tough and keep my hips back.
“It (the importance of his match to the team’s standing) was on my mind a little bit,” continued Herb. “My coaches told me to get bonus points any way I can. I want to tire them (his opponents) out and score at the end. My game plan is don’t get tired, don’t give up many points and take what I can.”
“Ethan won five matches and scored bonus points for the team in all of them,” said Wallace of Herb’s tournament. “That’s how he wrestles. He pushes kids and wears them down. He wrestled hard. He got bonus points for us. You want him to win for himself, and then think about the team second.”
Herb led 8-1 after the second period, then added three more points in the third to cinch the major decision. For Herb, it was his initial Lancaster-Lebanon League weight class championship.
“It’s nice to finally win,” said Herb. “Last year I got second, and the year before I was sixth. It’ll help later in the year. I think this shows where we stand with our league.
“I never try to compare teams,” Herb added. “We’re this year’s team. I try to focus on where we can go now. We’ve just got to keep wrestling and try our hardest.”
“They’re our senior leaders,” said Wallace of Herb and Leonard. “They’ve been around the longest. Even the juniors who have been around a while look up to them. It’s nice when the two champions you have are both seniors and have been around for awhile.”
Leonard appeared calm, cool and collected in cruising to his championship at 126 pounds.
Versus Hoopes in the final, Leonard notched three take-downs and a second-period reversal. He led 4-2 after the first period and 8-3 heading into the third.
“I wanted to go for outside shots. I didn’t want to go inside,” said Leonard. “I didn’t want to go upper body with him. I didn’t want to get thrown. It was, ‘Go out there, get the win and walk off the mat a champion.’ That was, overall, a better match for me.
“The league tournament is always something big to us,” Leonard continued. “It shows where I stand in the league, against the local kids. It’s a good stepping stone. If you have a good feeling here, it’l help you in the postseason.”
“Colin had a great tournament,” said Wallace. “He dominated the entire tournament. He’s starting to peak. This is about the time of year you want kids to peak.”
Now 26-5 this season, Leonard’s league championship was his second straight, to go along with an L-L silver, and a fourth-place showing as a freshman. After finishing eighth in the state in his weight class last season, Leonard’s goals moving forward are fairly clear-cut.
“There were a couple of matches I shouldn’t have lost,” said Leonard. “Then I picked up the pace and started well. Other than that, it’s (the season) been going well. I’ve been getting majors, techs and pins.
“My goal is a state title,” added Leonard. “My most attainable goal is to finish at least in the top three. I’ve just got to keep working. You can’t stop grinding in the wrestling room. Just keep wrestling and doing whatever it takes to win. That’s where the season is getting to right now. Nothing else matters.”
“We were expecting to win or get second,” said Wallace of his team’s performance. “You want your individual guys to compete and wrestle to the best of their ability. If you leave it all out on the mat, you can leave happy.”
Getting off to a solid start was also the key to Inman’s title at 113 pounds.
He scored a pair of opening-period take-downs to open a 4-2 lead on Houghton. Then with 16 seconds remaining in the middle stanza, Inman took Houghton down again to extend his lead to 6-3.
“My coaches told me he was going to be physical and aggressive,” said Inman of Houghton. “I had to match that intensity. I wrestled smart. I took some low shots. I was feeling good on my feet.
“I just took the tournament one match at a time,” continued Inman. “I always expect myself to do well. After the semifinals, I was feeling really confident.”
Inman had reached the championship bout at 113 with a 6-4 semifinal victory over Mason Casey of Garden Spot earlier in the day. He also topped Austin Brass of Ephrata 13-7 and pinned Skyler Nagel of Elizabethtown.
“To me, the league tournament symbolizes the beginning of the postseason, the hard, gritty matches,” said Inman, who was seventh in his weight class at last year’s L-L Championships. “There’s a lot of good kids here who will put together good, deep runs into the postseason.
“I’ll take it one step at a time,” Inman continued. “I want to do well at sectionals and go from there. Ultimately, my goal is to qualify for states and get on that podium.”
Other strong showings put forth by Lebanon County competitors at the Lancaster-Lebanon League Championships included: Cedar Crest’s Nick Stout, who came in third at 285 pounds; Viking Nick Goodyear, who was fourth in that same 285-pound weight class; Cedar Crest’s T.J. Moore, who was fourth at 220; Annville-Cleona’s Hayden Funck, who finished fourth at 138; Cedar Crest’s Taylor Gehman, who took third at 126.
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Lancaster-Lebanon League Wrestling Championships
(at Garden Spot High School)
106: Dominic Flatt, Solanco md Micah Sams, Manheim Twp. 8-1.
113: Matt Inman, AC d Jackson Houghton, Solanco 6-3.
120: Will Betancourt, Manheim Central p Brandon Breidegan, Northern Lebanon 1:03.
126: Colin Leonard, Northern Lebanon d Seth Hoopes, Octorara 8-4.
132: Cade Zeamer, Manheim Central d Braeden Amole, Octorara 8-2.
138: Kayde Althouse, Ephrata d Austin Rider, Conestoga Valley 2-1.
145: Gabe Miller, Pequea Valley p Bradley Cunningham, Lampeter-Strasburg 3:23.
152: Colt Barley, Penn Manor fft David Over, Manheim Twp.
160: Josh MacNamara, Conestoga Valley d Garrett Blake, Donegal 6-0.
170: Ethan Herb, Northern Lebanon md Dallin Ocasio, Lebanon 11-1.
182: Keegan McCord, Manheim Central d Nicholas Baker, Penn Manor 3-2.
195: Roland McClune, Warwick d Johnny Franklin, Lampeter-Strasburg 5-3.
220: Dustin Swanson, Garden Spot d Tyler Phenegar, Lampeter-Strasburg 4-2.
285: Tyler Dougherty, Manheim Central p Zachary Shelley, Lampeter-Strasburg 2:49.