BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – Ahhh, states. It’s where very good wrestlers go to die, and great wrestlers go to shine.
Thursday, the opening day of the annual PIAA Wrestling Championships, proved to be mostly a mixed bag for local Class AA competitors at Hershey’s Giant Center. Five Lebanon County wrestlers – four of whom were from Northern Lebanon – went a combined 2-7 in preliminary and first-round bouts.
Two of those local competitors, Vikings Colin Leonard and Blaise Bressler, lived to fight another day, but accomplished the feat in quite different fashions. Leonard parlayed a quick pin into a trip to Friday’s Class AA 126-pound quarterfinals, while Bressler survived his first round of consolations at 160 pounds via disqualification, after being relegated by an opening-round defeat.
Meanwhile, Northern Lebanon teammates Stevie Herb and Kyler Anspach, along with Annville-Cleona sophomore Matt Inman, saw their seasons conclude with 0-2 showings.
“We brought four, which was a little disappointing to begin with,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace. “I thought we could bring six or seven. But I’m just super excited for those guys who qualified to get here. Pennsylvania is the toughest state in the country for wrestling.
“It’s just tough,” Wallace continued. “By the time you get to this level, every kid here is a warrior. There’s no gimmees, Everyone wants to come at you.”
If there was one local wrestler who stood out yesterday, it was Leonard. The Southeast Regional runner-up improved to 47-6 on his junior season, with a 29-second decking of Saegertown sophomore Kenny Kiser.
Thursday represented Leonard’s third straight trip to the state tournament.
“Colin did a nice job,” said Wallace. “He’s a win away from a medal. That’s a really good kid he beat. Colin’s wrestling really well. He’s got a lot of confidence.
“That kid’s (Kiser) aggressive,” Wallace added. “He likes to throw. He tried to throw us. Colin didn’t panic. He stayed in good position and had a nice transition. He used his hips well.”
From the start of their opener, Kiser was clearly the aggressor. But when he went high on him, Leonard transferred his momentum and took Kiser down 15 seconds into the bout.
It took Leonard another 14 seconds to get him to his back and to complete his pinning combination.
“One of the things we have to our advantage is that we’ve been here before, for team states and for districts,” said Wallace. “It’s not like we’re in awe of the Giant Center. It was a combination of a bunch of things.
“You always want to bring every kid back to the next day,” continued Wallace. “You want to see the kids compete and have fun. We did that today.”
Bressler’s season and career continued, despite being helped off the mat, with 1:16 remaining in his first-round-of-consolations match with Jaeden Gordon of Central Valley. Now 49-7, Bressler was trailing 4-2 in the third period, when Gordon picked him up and slammed him to the mat with all his weight behind him.
Bressler received medical attention and was seen walking around under his own power after the match.
“It was an illegal slam,” said Wallace. “If he (Bressler) can wrestle tomorrow he will, as long as it’s not broken ribs. It’s just a matter of dealing with the pain. He just picked him (Bressler) up and threw him to the mat, with all his weight on his (Bressler’s) chest. It’s a common situation.
“It (the bout) was close,” added Wallace. “He (Bressler) was down and coming back. It’s March. It’s the state tournament, Everyone here is sick or hurt. It’s not a very forgiving place.”
Bressler had endured a 13-2 setback to Athens senior Nate Bradley in his opener. In that bout, Bressler surrendered seven second-period points and trailed 9-1 heading into the third.
Herb was tied 2-2 with Spencer Head of Eisenhower in the third period of their preliminary bout at 152, before falling 8-4. Then in first round of consolations against Peyton Hearn of Conneaut Area, Herb fell into a 5-0 hole before succumbing 7-2.
Herb ended his senior campaign 42-13.
Anspach met a similar fate at 113 pounds.
He was eliminated with a 44-second fall to Dalton Gimber of Brandywine Heights in the first round of wrestle-backs. Anspach had been relegated to the consolations by a 4:53 technical fall at the hands of Redbank Valley’s Mason Songer in the preliminaries.
Let the record show that Anspach went 34-19 during the 2017-18 season.
In the Class AA preliminaries at 106 pounds, Inman was locked in a score-less draw with Elizabeth Foward’s Ryan Michaels, before being pinned with 14 seconds remaining in the third period. Inman experienced difficulties bouncing back, and was whitewashed 7-0 by Bailey Gimbor of Brandywine Heights in the opening round of consolations.
Inman finished the winter 29-19.
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Annual PIAA Wrestling Championships
(at Hershey’s Giant Center)
Lebanon County Results
106: Ryan Michaels, Elizabeth Forward p Matt Inman, Annville-Cleona 5:46.
113: Mason Songer, Redback Valley p Kyler Anspach, Northern Lebaon 4:53.
152: Spencer Head, Eisenhower d Stevie Herb, Northern Lebanon 8-4.
Round of Sixteen
126: Colin Leonard, Northern Lebanon p Nick Oosterkamp, Harbor Creek :29.
160: Nate Bradley, Athens md Blaise Bressler, Northern Lebanon 13-2.
106: Bailey Gimbor, Brandywine Heights d Matt Inman, Annville-Cleona 7-0.
113: Dalton Gimbor, Brandywine Heights p Kyler Ansapch, Northern Lebanon :44.
152: Peyton Hearn, Conneaut Area d Stevie Herb, Northern Lebanon 7-2.
160: Blaise Bressler, Northern Lebanon wins by disqualification over Jaedon Gordon, Central Valley.