BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – One of the few sports to do so, the Lebanon County Wrestling Tournament is designed to decide local champions on the field of play. But because organizers have declined to institute an Outstanding Wrestler award, the event does not attempt to determine Lebanon County’s best wrestler.
Given the competitive nature of this year’s tournament, it’s probably a good thing that the local coaches have decided not to decide. Trying to choose between Annville-Cleona’s Tanner Plyes, Palmyra’s Evan Bogdan, Northern Lebanon’s Caeleb Blatt, Viking Evan Daub, Cedar Crest’s Adam Gilson, even Little Dutchman Josh Renninger could bring about a stress headache.
On Saturday at Annville-Cleona High School, a total of 14 Lebanon County championships were earned, during one of the most competitive County tournaments in recent memory. As for the team title, that went to the host Little Dutchmen, who won their first, by one of the smallest margins in the 20-year history of the meet.
Annville-Cleona edged runner-up Elco by a mere nine team points, 415-407. Northern Lebanon, which had bested the Little Dutchmen and Raiders in the regular season to win the Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three crown, finished third, followed by Cedar Crest, Palmyra and Lebanon High, in that order.
“The difference was the first place Dustin Blackman got at 138, and the last pin we got at heavyweight (against Northern Lebanon) was huge,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Mike Miller. “It’s hard for people to understand, because it’s an individual tournament. It looks like a dual meet tournament, but it’s an individual round-robin event.
“When we finished second or third the last six years, I told myself it was an individual event,” Miller continued. “It’s important, but I look at it as a stepping stone. Next week (sectionals) is more important, and the next week is even more important. But it’s nice to win.”
Another thing Annville-Cleona had go its way was its four weight class champions. Blackman, Renninger and Pyles were joined on the top rung of the medal podium by teammates Matt Darok at 126.
But for Pyles, it was a day to remember. In addition to gaining his third County crown, the senior 152-pounder registered the 100th win of his career, in style, with five pins.
Pyles now has 28 pins this season, and a gaudy 35-2 personal record.
“I know there’s a lot of good people here,” said Pyles. “If I had to choose an Outstanding Wrestler, I’d have to pick either Evan Daub or Caeleb Blatt. They both had good days, that I saw. I would be surprised if it were given to me, just given the outstanding competition that’s here. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple kids made it to states.
“My day went pretty good,” Pyles continued. “I had some good matches, got first and pinned everybody. I had an idea I was going to do it. But a couple of kids I wrestled today, I didn’t wrestle before. Every time I’ve wrestled here I got first, and last year I had five pins too.”
“We had done it in the past, and I’m not really sure why we don’t,” said Miller of the Outstanding Wrestler. “Sometimes the best wrestler in the County doesn’t win it. We as coaches give it after the postseason, and it goes to the wrestler who goes the farthest in the postseason.
“Today, I thought Tanner Pyles had the best tournament,” Miller continued. “He’s had an awesome season. If I had to pick, I’d say Tanner, or Josh Renninger. But Tanner’s very instinctive and he’s strong as an ox. He wrestles differently than every other wrestler. He always goes for the pin.”
Bogdan made a case for himself with championship at tough 113-pound weight class. A senior, it was also Bogdan’s third straight Lebanon County title.
“If I were named the Outstanding Wrestler, it would be an honor,” said Bogdan. “I know a lot of these coaches. But it’s a great honor going out this way. It’s good momentum going into the postseason.
“I did pretty well,” added Bogdan. “I thought I moved pretty well on my feet. I didn’t wrestle my freshman year, but every other year I won it. ”
Blatt also faced a difficult minefield at 132 pounds, but maneuvered through it flawlessly. Blatt placed an exclamation point on his title by tallying a 10-0 decision over Annville-Cleona’s Orlando Belleman, who claimed the 120-pound championship at last year’s County meet.
“It’s possible,” said Blatt of his chances of winning the mythical award. “There’s a lot of tough wrestlers here. The Cedar Crest kid at 195 (Gilson) is a tough kid. All in all there’s a lot of tough kids here.
“My weight class today was tough,” Blatt continued. “I had a lot of tough kids in it. I wasn’t really worried about getting caught. I just had to go into every match focused.”
In the light of Blatt’s performance and Daub’s winning showing at 160, Northern Lebanon claimed more weight class crowns than any other team. The Vikings’ efforts were also aided by Matt Vines’ championship at 220, Dustin Breidegan’s title at 106 and freshman Luke Funck’s gold at 145.
Gilson, fresh off his Lancaster-Lebanon League championship two weeks ago, found the going to his liking at 195 pounds. Another Falcon, the colorful Bobby Beard, took top honors at 182.
Elco was represented by the Bankus brothers, Wes and Zach. Wes turned away all challengers at 285 pounds, while Zach captured the 170-pound crown.
LEBANON COUNTY WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Past Team Champions
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