Written by Jeff Falk
If we’ve learned anything from the last 100 years or so of sports, it’s that happy, harmonious teams enjoy greater levels of success. It seems that teams that get along not only pull for each other, they also push each other.
That’s been the secret to the Annville-Cleona wrestling team’s success over the last few years. Because they get along so swimmingly, not only does each individual want to see his teammates succeed, they don’t want to be the one who lets the rest of the team down.
With 13 contributing seniors, the Little Dutchmen truly are a ‘band of brothers.’ On Tuesday night, Annville-Cleona earned its third consecutive Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three championship with a convincing 49-20 victory over rival Elco.
“We do have a lot of seniors,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Mike Miller. “They’re pretty mature and they know what’s best for the team. They’re very team-oriented. At individual tournaments, we don’t feed off each other as much. A match’s starting point is really important to us because it gets the momentum going.
“You have to learn how to win,” Miller continued. “This group, coming up through middle school, they had won. And then the junior class got pulled into it. It had to start somewhere. The mentality started changing with the seniors. A winning attitude, you almost have to teach that.”
At the beginning of the season, Miller had an inkling that the section title might come down to the final match at Elco. Annville-Cleona went into it assured of at least a share of the title, but left little doubt as to which was the better team.
Of the 12 bouts wrestled that night, Annville-Cleona won nine of them.
“Most of them have been wrestling since elementary school,” said Miller. “And they do a lot of out-of-season work, wrestling together over the summer. They’re together a lot. And sometimes it’s not without its drama.
“Part of it is that you push each other,” added Miller. “You’ve heard the expression, ‘Steel sharpens steel.’ Practice is sometimes physical. There’s a lot of going at each other. You don’t want to be the weakest link. Nobody wants to be the guy that lets everyone else down, so you put in the time.”
Currently, Annville-Cleona sports a gaudy 24-1 overall mark. The Little Dutchmen did not lose in six Section Three outings this season.
“Yeah, we wrestled well against Elco,” said Miller. “We kind of expected that with the seniors we have. We felt confident going it, but you never know who’s going to be sick that day or just not have it. When I planned it out, I thought it was a possiblity it might happen that way. But I’m usually pretty positive. I always think we’re going to win.”
While the Section Three championship was certainly near the top of the Little Dutchmen’s pre-season check list, it definitely did not stand alone. On Wednesday, Annville-Cleona will be the third-seeded team and host an as of yet undetermined foe in the quarterfinals of the District Three Class AA team tournament.
Last season, the Little Dutchmen recorded the first district team tournament win in program history. So not only is there precedence, there is also motivation.
“As a team, we wrestled to win the section,” said Miller. “These seniors who came up as sophomores, all they’ve ever been is section champions. We also wanted to qualify for team districts. And we just wanted to wrestle well. You just never know what you’re going to get.
“Considering the last section title we had won was 1976, and that it was the only section title we ever had and that I was in the fourth grade at the time, winning three was big,” Miller continued. “Getting that first one might have been the toughest. Last year the way things worked out we had to share it (with Elco). And this year it was like, ‘We won two, heck we might as well go for three.'”
Winning three straight section titles is not without its perks. From it, the current crop of Little Dutchmen have derived a certain amount of notoriety.
“They’ve also made wrestling kind of cool again,” said Miller of his charges. “They were at a youth league practice the other night and they were slapping high fives with the younger kids. It was like they were celebrities.”
Once all of the team accomplishments have been sorted through, there still remains the issue of individual competition. Annville-Cleona’s individual postseason success will ride on the shoulders of 152-pound Dylan Killian, who’s 28-1, 135-pound Cody Beattie, who’s 18-0, 112-pound Tony Yohe, who’s 25-7, 140-pound Anthony Lentini, who’s 23-7, 119-pound Phil Corle, who’s 23-7, 125-pound Tim Renninger, who’s 22-9, Derek Kreiser-Shifflett, who’s 21-9 and 160-pound Arron Hartman, who’s 20-10.
“We have t-shirts that say ‘Battle-Tested’ on the back,” said Miller. “I think it kind of describes us. We’ve been through it all. We won three section championships and won a team district match last year. We’ve seen a lot.”