BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – OK, try to follow along.
Fifth section championship.
Second straight league crown.
Third in the district as a team.
Second in the state as a crew.
And now a second consecutive team title at the district individual tournament.
The Northern Lebanon wrestling squad isn’t adding to an impressive resume as much it is continuing an unprecedented run of recent success.
On Saturday afternoon at Hershey’s Giant Center, during the conclusion of the three-day District Three Class AA Individual Championships, the Vikings captured the team crown in impressive fashion, accumulating 156 team points to best runner-up Newport and the rest of the 30-team field by 20 points. Of the dozen competitors that Northern Lebanon took to Hershey this weekend, the Vikings scored two titles, a runner-up finish, two thirds, a fourth, a total of 11 medals, and most importantly advanced nine student-athletes to next weekend’s regional event.
Leading the way for Northern Lebanon were seniors Zach Kelly and Luke Funck, who claimed individual championships at 138 pounds and 182 pounds, respectively. Kelly scored a dramatic 3-1, 3 OT- triumph over Middletown junior Devin Martin in the their final, while Funck shaded Susquehanna Township’s Devin Evans, 8-5 in the title tilt.
“Yes and no,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace of the importance of the team title. “Not winning the district team title, was a tough pill to swallow. But the kids rebounded and wrestled well in states. Coming in here, the kids wanted to win the team championship. It’s a nice tournament to win.
“But the team title is not really the important thing,” continued Wallace. “It’s nice to win at the end. But you want to see the kids wrestle well, compete and battle. At the end of the week, the guys wrestled well enough to win it, and that’s icing on the cake.”
While certainly not a surprise, Kelly’s title may have been a little less expected than Funck’s.
Locked in a 1-1 defensive siege with Martin, Kelly won it with a two-point near fall at the end of the third extra session. The match remained deadlocked through a first overtime period which began with both competitors on their feet and a second during which Martin rode out Kelly.
The decisive third period started with Kelly on top.
“I knew it was pretty close,” said Kelly of the clock. “I felt like it was getting late. I knew I had to score to win that one.
“I thought I did pretty good,” Kelly added. “I kind of outlasted my opponents. I kept the same mentality, the same pace throughout the entire match, and it worked.”
“It’s the same kid. He’s the same Zach,” said Wallace. “He’s had a really good year. But the last two weeks he’s kind of peaked. Now’s when you want to be peaking.”
Kelly grabbed a 1-0 lead with an escape early in the middle period, before Martin countered with one of his own in the third stanza.
Now 39-8 on the year, Kelly finished third at last season’s District Three Class AA championships and fell one match short of advancing to the PIAA festivities.
“I wanted to win the whole thing,” said Kelly of his district crown. “I’m a senior. It’s my goal to go out with a win, to go out with a bang.
“My goal is definitely to make it to states,” Kelly added. “That’s the main goal now. This puts me in pretty good shape to do it.”
“His goal is to place at states,” said Wallace. “I don’t think he’ll be happy just to get there. We’re taking nine to regionals and I don’t think we’re taking anyone who can’t make it to states.”
Funck logged two quick pins in the quarterfinals and semifinals to reach the championship bout at 182. Nursing a 4-3 edge, he took Evans down with six seconds left in the second period, then upped his advantage to 8-3 early in the third period.
“I wish they all could be (first-period pins),” said Funck. “I went into the match knowing if I wrestled on the edge I could take him down. I need to start wrestling better on top. My goal was to beat him from the sideline.
“The main point is to keep winning and moving forward,” Funck continued. “I was upset that I gave up that take down at the end.”
“I thought he did great,” said Wallace of Funck. “He wrestled a really good kid in Evans. We’ll probably see him again in the regional finals. He’s one of the top kids in the state. Luke scored three take downs. It was a good solid match. A lot of times we get spoiled when we see Luke go out and get quick pins.”
Funck assumed a 2-0 lead with a take down 1:10 into the championship bout. His take down with 55 seconds of the second period remaining gave him a 4-2 margin.
With the win, Funck, who was fourth at last year’s state tournament, improved to 43-3 this season. He now has 28 falls on the year and 107 for his career.
“That’s my ultimate goal, to make it to the state finals,” said Funck. “I want to win every match until then. My goal was to go undefeated, but that didn’t go well.
“I feel alright,” added Funck. “I’ve been fighting strep throat a little. But regardless, I want to wrestle better.”
“Obviously you want everyone to advance,” said Wallace. “When they don’t, it’s tough to swallow. You don’t want to leave kids behind. You just have to wrestle your hardest.”
A third Northern Lebanon competitor to reach the finals – Trevor Leonard at 132 – fell short. T. Leonard dropped a 12-7 decision to undefeated Gabe Miller of Pequea Valley in the championship match, the fourth time he’s lost to Miller this season.
After the first period ended with the combatants tied at 4-4, Miller outscored T. Leonard 6-2 in the middle session to open a 10-6 advantage. The match was certainly closer than Miller’s technical fall of T. Leonard in the Lancaster-Lebanon League finals.
“He’s beaten us four times,” said Wallace of Miller. “But three of the matches were like this one, they were close. That’s one of the top kids in the state, if not the best. We’re right there. That’s a kid we can beat with the right match. It was an exciting match.”
A pair of Northern Lebanon competitors took home bronze medals – Colin Leonard at 120 pounds and Kyler Anspach at 106.
Anspach notched four third-period points on his way to an 8-4 triumph over Ethan Paul of Upper Dauphin in their consolation final. C. Leonard parlayed a couple of middle-stanza points into a 2-0 whitewashing of Trinity’s Caleb Bentley in their third-place bout.
Viking Hunter Wallace finished fourth at 220 pounds. Teammate Kyle Sonnen was fifth at heavyweight. while Northern Lebanon’s Ethan Herb came in sixth at 170 pounds.
“You want to advance as many kids as you can,” said Wallace. “Get your hand raised and move on. Regionals is a new weekend, a brand new tournament.”
Meanwhile, in the Class AAA competition, Palmyra senior Leo Higgins placed fourth at 182 pounds. Higgins went 3-2 at the event to move his seasonal record to 25-5.
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