BY JEFF FALK
George Santayana said: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it’.
Luke Funck has no problem remembering what he’s been told about the past. In fact, he’s keenly aware of it.
But there is nothing Funck would like more than to repeat it – for the first time ever.
When Funck hits the mats at Hershey’s Giant Center later this week, for the PIAA Wrestling Championships, he will be in pursuit of self-actualization and some pretty significant history. The Northern Lebanon senior will be seeking to become only the second competitor in Lebanon County wrestling history to ever win a state championship in the sport.
Sixteen years ago, another Viking wrestler and one of Funck’s former coaches, Jim Collins won the locale’s only ultimate prize in the sport. Not only does history have the power to put a certain perspective on things, it has a way of bringing them into focus.
“It’s definitely an accomplishment to be put in the category of a man of his caliber,” said Funck of Collins. “To be recognized as second behind him would be incredible. It would just mean the world to me. Going from a small school like Northern Lebanon to a state champion would be a dream come true.
“Everybody feels pressure going into the state tournament,” continued Funck. “It drives you to wrestle to the best of your ability. I’ve been to the Giant Center before. I’m just looking to go back and keep it rolling.”
“There’s only ever been one. That’s saying something,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace of Collins. “When you’re talking about ‘ever been done done once’, that’s big. Jim was a state champion and I’ve been around Luke since he was five. Everybody knows the significance of it. If he was able to do that, it would be a huge thing for our program.
“The only thing really similar with the two is their drive,” Wallace continued. “Luke wants to win. He hates to lose. Jim also had a distaste for losing. Jim was a lightweight. His technique was flawless. Luke is a bigger kid. He’s a strong kid.”
Funck, 46-3 at 182 pounds, will not be the only Viking wrestler competing at the PIAA Class AA tournament at Hershey’s Giant Center – beginning Thursday morning and lasting into Saturday evening – but he has the best chance of bringing home state gold. He will be joined by teammates Kyler Anspach at 106 pounds, Colin Leonard at 120, Trevor Leonard at 132, Zach Kelly at 138 and Hunter Wallace at 220.
“Going into the state tournament, if you’re not there to win it, then you’re going into it with the wrong mindset,” said Funck, when asked if he can win it all. “The answer would be ‘yeah’. Everyone knows the state tournament isn’t a walk-through tournament. I just have to wrestle to the best of my ability. I’ve been wrestling pretty well. I’ve just got to stay mentally tough.
“This is what every kid works for, from elementary school up, to be the best wrestler in the state,” Funck added. “Since I was four years old, all I’ve been looking for is wrestling at the state tournament, and having all eyes on you.”
“He absolutely can win it,” said Wallace. “We’re not taking a wrestler to states that doesn’t think they can win. At this time of the year, there’s a lot of mental preparation that goes into it. You don’t have to be the best guy. You have to be the best guy that day. You have to go out and wrestle every guy the same way. But Luke can absolutely win.
“These guys have been working nine-ten months out of the year, for 12 or 13 years,” added Wallace. “They’re not winning these matches the day of. They win it this summer or the last two summers. With the amount they sacrifice for 12 years, when you see them have success, there are no words to describe it.”
Included in the experiences from which Funck will draw is a fourth-place finish at the last season’s PIAA tournament. As a junior, the only wrestlers to beat Funck all season long finished ahead of him at states – and all were seniors.
“Last year, I did pretty well,” said Funck. “But not as well as I was hoping. I lost to a powerhouse in the semis. And I wrestled another powerhouse in the consolation final. It definitely motivated me over the summer to get better, to get to the level those guys were at. The score was right there, but I didn’t have enough.
“Going into this weekend, I’m ready for it,” Funck continued. “I’ve been waiting for it all summer long. It should be fun to see how I do. I’m just ready to wrestle.”
“I remember the first two days,” said Wallace of the 2016 event. “I remember the match he won that guaranteed him a medal. After losing in the semis, he kept his confidence. Last year, the fourth was special. But I know he has his sites set on winning it all this year.
“Everything that happens is a positive,” continued Wallace. “And anything that happens that’s a negative, you use it as a positive. You’re going to get knocked down. You’re going to get punched in the mouth. It made him work harder.”
Funck, who has designs on wrestling in college, is coming off a championship at the Class AA Southeast Regional tournament at Wilson High School this past weekend. He is also the reigning District Three and Lancaster-Lebanon League title holder.
“There’s kids I’ve seen before and there’s kids I’ve wrestled before,” said Funck of the 182-pound state bracket. “But going into it, it doesn’t matter. It comes down to wrestling your best on any given day. The bracket really doesn’t really mean anything.”
“We wrestled the right schedule,” said Wallace. “We seek out the right competition. We go out and find the absolute best competition in the state. We have all the right training. Now it is what it is. You just go out and leave it all on the mat.”
Anspach, 41-14, was the runner-up at the Class AA Southeast Regional, as was the 41-9 Kelly at 138 pounds. Trevor Leonard, 42-13, came in second at 132 pounds at the Southeast Regional, Colin Leonard, 36-18, was fifth at regionals, while Hunter Wallace, 35-20, was sixth.
“That’s a great number,” said Wallace of six. “When you’re taking half your lineup to the state tournament, that’s a really big deal. I absolutely wanted more, but six is a really good number. It (the final day of regionals) was a super day. As a coach and father, this is Hunter’s group. To see what they were able to do was a pretty neat thing.
“We don’t ever go into a tournament thinking we can’t win,” Wallace added. “At regionals, we put four guys in the finals. Not a lot of people thought we could do it, but our kids believed. Our kids are confident. They know the work they do. They’re going to wrestle without fear. We’re not taking a kid who doesn’t think he can win.”
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