BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – Work hard. Train hard.
Eat right. Line up the best competition. Prepare mentally, emotionally and physically.
Make grades. Make weight.
The Northern Lebanon wrestling team did everything in its power to get ready for this time of the year and the PIAA Championships. The Vikings didn’t miss a thing, they left no stone un-turned.
But ultimately some things that occurred were out of Northern Lebanon’s realm of control. And the Vikings exited Hershey’s Giant Center with nothing to show for it, except the experience – and a still-intact pride.
The Vikings’ spectacular 2016-17 season came to an end on Friday afternoon during the second day of the 79th edition of the state wrestling tournament. Specifically, Northern Lebanon’s campaign concluded in the Class AA third-round of consolations, where seniors Trevor Leonard and Zach Kelly were beaten, a win short of medals.
During their two days of competition, six Viking wrestlers went a combined 4-12.
Along the way, Northern Lebanon finished second in the state team competition, and captured the Class AA Southeast Regional team title, its second straight District Three Class AA team crown, its second consecutive Lancaster-Lebanon League championship and its fifth straight Section Three title. The tradition continued.
‘You’re thinking better,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace of his state expectations. “You come in here thinking Luke (Funck) is going to be in the finals. You’re thinking you’re going to have other kids wrestling for medals. But the guys came out and competed and battled. When you come here, it’s the toughest (high school wrestling) tournament in the country. You want to come off the mat knowing you did everything you possibly could. But you also want to be thankful for everything you did accomplish.
“It’s (things beyond control) frustrating, but you’ve got to deal with it,” continued Wallace. “You’re not the only team here that has kids who lost one-point matches. You’re not the only team here that had injuries. It’s not like we’re the only team here that had bad things happen. It’s the nature of the sport. They’re strong kids. They’re strong-minded kids. They have great work ethics. They’re going to take what they learned and apply it to life. Life is more like a 7-2 loss than it is a 7-2 win. I’m just super-excited to see where they take it from here.”
T. Leonard entered Friday’s action as the only Viking alive in the championship bracket of his weight class, 132. But T. Leonard absorbed a pair of losses, which ended his career.
First, T. Leonard surrendered a five-point move in the first-period of his quarterfinal bout with Bishop McCourt junior Carnell Andrews, before getting pinned at the 3:47 mark. Then in the third round of consolations, T. Leonard yielded five third-period points in a 7-1 loss to Tyler Alberts of Ellwood City.
T. Leonard never led in either of his matches.
“The first thing you try to do, at the end of everything, is reflect on the positives,” said Wallace. “There were a ton. Bringing six (wrestlers) here was an absolute positive. We had guys who lost in a variety of ways. We had guys who battled hard and got the most out of it. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. We got some underclassmen here. It’s always emotional when seniors are done. I hate it.”
Kelly had kept his 138-pound season alive with a 3-0 blanking of Hanover’s D.J. Erickson in the morning’s second-round of consolations. With an escape and take-down, Kelly recorded all of his points in the final 48 seconds of the middle stanza.
But Kelly ran out of bracket a match later. He fell behind Thayne Lawrence of Frazier 3-0 in the second period and then got pinned 1:01 into the third.
“We don’t wrestle any more than any other school,” said Wallace. “There are coaches that say deep team postseason runs take it out of you. I don’t think that affected us. I thought we wrestled well in districts and regionals. We just wrestled some pretty good kids here.”
Northern Lebanon 120-pounder Colin Leonard bowed out of the state tournament Friday with a 7-4 setback at the hands of Trent Bechtold of Burrell in the second round of consolations. C. Leonard trailed 4-1 in the second period and 7-1 in the third.
“They’re such a tight-knit group. They were really emotional,” said Wallace of Thursday morning’s scholastic career-ending injury suffered by Funck in the opening round at 182 pounds. “It’s hard to see one of your teammates get hurt. His goal when he came here was to win. If he would’ve finished second he would’ve been disappointed.”
After tearing the ligament off the bone of his left ankle 15 seconds into Thursday’s opener, Funck, equipped with crutches, was in the Giant Center stands on Friday cheering on his teammates. His decorated career officially came to an end when he forfeited his match in the second round of consolations at 182.
“I got in a shot,” recounted Funck. “I got up on my toes and my ankle came over my toes and it just popped. It hurt a lot, to say the least. I couldn’t put weight on it. I was hobbled on one foot trying to continue. But I couldn’t.
“Now I’m just watching Zach (Kelly) and Trevor (Leonard) hoping they can win,” added Funck. “Maybe they can take some medals back to Northern Lebanon for us.”
“He knew something was wrong,” said Wallace of Funck. “He’s a tough kid. He’s wrestled with injuries before. He couldn’t go. He can’t walk on it. He can put zero weight on it.”
For Funck, watching from the stands wasn’t the way one of the most successful careers in the history of Lebanon County wrestling was supposed to end. Included in his accomplishments were more than 160 career wins, over 100 all-time pins and three trips to the state tournament.
“Yesterday was awful,” said Funck. “Today was better. Everything happens for a reason. Now I’m here supporting my teammates. God has a plan. I’ll find out in the future why, or maybe I won’t.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” Funck continued. “You wrestle your whole life to get here, you get hurt and it’s over. But everything happens for a reason.”
“He’s up there. He’s right there,” said Wallace of Funck’s career. “He medaled here last year. Him getting injured doesn’t diminish anything. He’s just good for the sport in general. People who aren’t wrestling fans know who he is. He’s up there with some of the best ever.”
And the sun came up tomorrow.
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