BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – This weekend’s District Three wrestling championships was an individual event, not a team tournament. Sometimes Northern Lebanon has a difficult time distinguishing between the two.
On Saturday afternoon at Hershepark Arena, during the second and final day of the District Three meet, the Vikings parlayed individual excellence and a unified approach into yet another team triumph. By advancing five competitors to weight class finals, winning three individual championships and pushing ten wrestlers into next weekend’s regional round of the postseason, Northern Lebanon amassed 198.5 team points and easily out distanced runner-up Boiling Springs for the Class AA team trophy.
Northern Lebanon already had District Three Class AA, Lancaster-Lebanon League and Section Three team crowns to its credit. While yesterday was supposed to mark the beginning of the individual postseason for the Vikings, they would have none of it.
Viking senior 170-pounder Quinn Blatt, junior 182-pounder Luke Funck and senior 220-pounder Matt Vines became the first wrestlers from their school to garner individual district titles in 15 years, as all three were impressive in capturing weight class championships. Teammates Trevor Leonard, at 132 pounds, and George Thompson at 285 pounds, also reached the finals, but fell short of gold.
Annville-Cleona senior Josh Renninger made it to the Class AA final at 138, but was forced to settle for silver. And in Class AAA, Cedar Crest Falcon Jarell Howard-Griffin copped a trip to states with a third-place performance at 182 pounds.
“It’s nice to win the team championship, and turn around and win the team championship at the individual tournament,” said Northern Lebanon head coach rusty Wallace. “We brought 13 kids and at least ten are going on. I’m not sure that’s ever been done before. We had 13 kids on the podium. That’s a lot of medals. We had a really nice finals. Five in the finals, win three and have a shot in the other two. The guys really battled.
“It’s different (the championship of the team tournament and the team championship at the individual tournament),” continued Wallace. “It’s the team aspect and the individual aspect. The team tournament is about who has the best team. Here it shows who has the best individuals.”
“I’m not here for myself. I never am,” said Blatt. “I’m here for the team. I’m here for my teammates. I’m here to root on my teammates. Some of the matches didn’t go as I hoped and they broke my heart. We had 13 guys enter this tournament. The goal was to have 13 guys leave. We’re pretty well set. We have most of our individuals advancing.
“I consider it another week with my family,” continued Blatt. “Being in that wrestling room is such a neat experience. It’s a tight-knit family, and I love it.”
“We’ve just been working hard all year,” said Vines. “It’s a combination of a lot of hard work, for me and my brothers. It’s a family. We brought 13 guys, but we’re taking a good number to regionals.”
“We’re not looking at anything with the team right now,” said Funck. “We’re focusing on individuals.”
Blatt posted a 16-4 major decision over Dakota Mackley of Eastern York in the final Class AA bout at 170. Blatt, now 38-8, was locked in a tight battle with Mackley before employing a four-point move in the middle of the second period to open an 8-2 advantage.
“It pretty much went as planned,” said Blatt. “I was comfortable the whole match. It was a good match. It was tough.
“I don’t even know how to explain what I’m feeling,” added Blatt. “I’m so excited. My goal is to get as high as I can at every tournament. I was first at sectionals and now I’m first at districts.”
Vines decked Rickie Ott at the 1:08 mark of their title bout at 220. Now 35-10, Vines blocked an Ott take-down shot and turned that momentum against him for the fall.
“It feels pretty awesome,” said Vines. “It’s my senior year. I’m just trying to get the best out of it. I think it helped me in terms of last year, I got to the finals as a junior, and just couldn’t get it. Getting it here was real nice.
“Coach was shouting, ‘Slow it down. Slow it down’,” Vines added. “Sometimes you can confuse kids. And sometimes you’ve got to slow it down.”
Funck needed just 12 seconds of his championship match at 182 to record a take-down of Littlestown senior Connor Geiman. Then working on top, Funck completed his pinning combination 32 seconds later.
In improving to 35-1, Funck spent a total of 5:21 on the mat this weekend, while picking up two pins and a technical fall.
“It was quicker than I thought it would be,” said Funck. “I really wanted to redeem myself for last year. I was second, and in that (championship) match, he destroyed me.
“I didn’t even look at the brackets,” Funck continued. “Every time my coach told me to come out, I came out.”
“I don’t think anyone really stood out,” said Wallace. “I thought we did it as a team, collectively. Usually you look at the championships, but we had a lot of kids who battled back for third- and fifth-places.”
In the Class AA championship match at 132, T.Leonard dropped a 5-2 decision to Bishop McDevitt’s John Pipa. Leonard had assumed a 2-0 lead with a reversal with 15 seconds remaining in the second stanza, but Pipa tallied all five of his points in the final period.
Thompson dropped a tight 2-1 defensive struggle to Wyomossing’s Robert Dunbar in the heavyweight tilt. Dunbar used a second-period escape and a penalty point for stalling on Thompson to open a 2-0 lead late in the third period.
Renninger, a 35-4 senior, endured a 12-3 setback at the hands of Cole Wetzel of Boiling Springs in the final bout at 138 pounds. Thanks to a Renninger escape, it was 2-2 in the middle stanza, before Wetzel rattled off six unanswered points.
On Saturday morning, Howard-Griffin was pinned by Drew Peck of Chambersburg in the Class AAA semifinal at 182 pounds. But he battled back with three straight wins in the meat grinder, including a triumph over Evan Morrill of Lower Dauphin in the consolation final, to grab third and a state trip to Hershey’s Giant Center in two weeks.
“The goal is just to keep advancing,” said Wallace. “We want to get as many kids to the state tournament as possible. What we did today, tomorrow will be irrelevant. We want to have a good week of practice. We’ve got to be ready to go.
“Realistically, the goal is to get all of them to states. Absolutely,” continued Wallace. “If we have the right mental approach, we can do it. They’re battle-tested. They won’t make regionals more than it is. It’s just another tournament.”
NL’s Zach Kelly collected bronze at 138 pounds by pinning Bishop McDevitt’s Jayden Johnson in the second period of their third-place bout.
Viking Hunter Wallace was pinned by Logan Luckenbaugh of Bermudian Springs at the 29-second mark of their third-place bout at 195 and finished fourth. And teammate Kyler Anspach was also fourth, at 106.
Northern Lebanon’s Blaise Bressler was fifth at 152 pounds, as was Luis Negreiros at 160.
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