HERSHEY – It is the most fleeting moment in all of Lebanon County sports.
Competitors toil, sweat, bleed nearly year-round, for most of their young lives, just to get a chance to sniff chocolate. But it can all come crashing down in two days, 11 minutes, a single point or a missed shot.
Though the results might not suggest it, Northern Lebanon’s Evan Daub, Luke Funck and Craig Spitler, and Annville-Cleona’s Jeff Inman and Josh Renninger made the absolute most of their moments in the state wrestling spotlight.
On Friday morning at Giant Center, during the PIAA Class AA grappling postseason, one of the largest Lebanon County contingents to ever qualify for states had their seasons – and some instances careers – ended in the second round of consolations. That the group went a combined 2-10 in the most important individual competitions of their career was only part of the story.
Vikings Daub, Funck and Spitler all went 0-2 in their first trips to Hershey, individually completing the most successful team wrestling season in the sports’ local history. Renninger went 2-2 and was the only Lebanon County competitor to win a bout, while Little Dutchmen teammate Inman’s third trip to states concluded in a similar fashion to his first two.
“It’s such a hard ending,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Jerome Simon. “You’re so excited to get here. The crowd, the energy is intimidating. But it’s such an abrupt ending. You’re on such a high, such a euphoric high to be here, and in a couple of matches it can be over.
“You have to accept that moment,” continued Simon. “You’ve got to be relaxed when you’re up here. You’ve just got to wrestle, you’ve just got to let it fly, especially if it’s your first trip up here. But it’s difficult not to be nervous.”
“There’s very few people who end their careers on a happy note,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace. “I think it’s a shame that there’s a lot of people out there who don’t realize how hard these guys work and understand what they do. For you to compete in wrestling in our state, you’ve got to wrestle 12 months just to be mediocre.
“They never stop,” Wallace continued. “For most of these guys, it gets a little sentimental. To know they worked 12 months a year for ten years, I get a little emotional. It’s been fun watching them grow, watching them compete. There’s a lot of people who don’t realize the time sacrificed to be successful. These kids are the only reason I coach. It’s nice to have kids who are willing to work.”
Daub’s 170-pound career reached its conclusion with a 9-6 setback at the hands of Reynolds senior Michael Millero in the second round of wrestle backs. Ultimately, Daub couldn’t dig himself out of the 7-2 deficit he found himself in at the end of the second period.
Millero had built his advantage on the strength of three takedowns. Daub did fight back in the third stanza, but ran out of time after recording a reversal with 20 seconds remaining.
Daub, the runner-up at last weekend’s Southeast Regional tournament, concluded his senior season with a 41-13 mark.
“He had a good tournament,” said Wallace of one of his senior leaders. “He had a good postseason, from start to finish. He’s been battling an injury, and he’s wrestled the last two weeks in a lot of pain. He had something like that to deal with, but he stayed focused. He had a tough draw. Both of the kids who beat us are going to medal.
“We try not to put a ton of pressure on the kids because we want them to compete,” Wallace added. “Once you get to the round of 16, you have to win two before you lose two. That puts you in the top eight, and seems more manageable. We try to keep things in perspective.”
Funck endured a 4-1 loss to Huntingdon’s Jon Wagner in their 160-pound bout in Class AA’s second round of consolations. Trailing 2-1 and trying to keep his sophomore season alive, the talented Funck was attempting to get something going when he was reversed in the third period.
Funck, who had been relegated to the consys with a similar 4-1 defeat to Jared Walker of South Fayette on Thursday, posted a 41-14 overall record this winter.
“Luke was at regionals last year as a freshman,” said Wallace. “We do so much wrestling in the off-season that our younger kids can make huge strides. If they put in the time, they can get a lot better. He took some losses to really tough kids, but halfway through the season he really hit his stride. But the experience he got here was invaluable.
“It’s sad to see it come to an end because it’s been such a privilege to be around this team,” added Wallace. “Their attitudes, their work ethic, their willingness to do whatever we ask has made them a joy to coach. They’ve done a great job of setting the bar and expectations for the future. That’s the legacy they left behind.”
Spitler, a senior who made the most of his ability, was beaten 13-6 by Ignacion Reynoso of Hamburg in the 182-pound weight class’ second round of consolations. Spitler was edged 3-2 by Towanda’s Dakoatah Manning during Thursday’s pigtail round.
Spitler was key cog in the Vikings’ historic campaign, one which included a third straight Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three team championship, an appearance in the District Three Class AA team finals and three triumphs and an eight-place showing in the PIAA team tournament.
“As coaches, we knew it,” said Wallace of Spitler’s ability to reach the state individual postseason. “He has a unique style and he’s hard to wrestle. But we had to convince him he was capable. I’m not sure he was convinced he could get here. We had a goal-setting session and we told him, ‘Your goal absolutely has to be to wrestle at the Giant Center. If you don’t believe that, you’ve got to reassess things.’ He said: ‘OK, if you guys say so’. It was neat to see him qualify.
“Luke’s an underclassmen and he got a taste,” added Wallace. “Evan was close to getting here the last couple of years. For Craig doing what he did, every weekend just battling to get here, it was rewarding.”
A junior, Renninger came face-to-face with his fate in the second round of the 132-pound consolation bracket, in the form of a 3-2 loss to Matt Schmall of Northern Lehigh.
Locked with Schmall in a scoreless, third-period draw, Renninger was hit with a stalling point and then gave up a reversal. Renninger countered with a reversal of his own, but it came with only 12 seconds left in the bout.
Now 43-15, Renninger had opened his tournament with a 12-4 triumph over Line Mountain’s Blake Karl on Thursday morning, before falling to George Phillippi of Derry Area in the quarterfinals. But Renninger rebounded nicely in his first consolation match, decking Shane Ging of South Fayette at the 4:43 mark.
“Josh got two wins under his belt,” said Simon. “Today was a tough one. It was really the stalling call that hurt him. He was working on top and couldn’t get that kid (Schmall) down. He doesn’t force things like he was forcing things earlier in the year. I thought he had a real nice year. He looks motivated to get here again next year.
“There was a time this season when Josh was 12-7, and he went on a tear, like a 20-1 run,” continued Simon. “At the (Lancaster-Lebanon) league tournament he lost a close match, and something just clicked and he knew he belonged. From that match on, he has wrestled exceptionally. He’s had so much confidence. He wrestled a really great regional tournament. He was not content, but nervous to be up here.”
Facing a one-point deficit heading into the final period of his career, Inman could not reverse his fortunes from his feet and suffered a 2-1 loss to Burrell’s Damon Greenwald in the second round of consolations at 152 pounds. Inman experienced difficulties getting anything going offensively and did not record a takedown in either of his two state losses – he had been shut out 10-0 by Jacob Oliver of Huntingdon in his opener on Thursday.
Inman, 32-5, will go down in Lebanon County wrestling history as one of the few competitors to qualify for states three times. But for Inman, it was a career hampered by injuries.
“It’s a little disappointing, not in him, but because he lost,” said Simon of Inman. “He lost a month of the season to injury. He looked tough at districts, but he was never the same. I feel bad for him because I know he really wanted it. He’s disappointed that he didn’t get a medal. He took that bad shot and the kid (Greenwald) countered. He was tough on top. He had some good shots, but couldn’t get through that kid’s defense, that kid’s hands.
“As a sophomore, Jeff won, then lost two here,” continued Simon. “As a junior he qualified, but couldn’t compete because of a concussion. He’s a three-year state qualifier and he’s disappointed. He really wanted to get on that medal stand. He worked hard the last couple of weeks to get back in his groove.”