Following his 8-6 loss in the 130-pound state championship match last year, Biglerville's Laike Gardner sat teary-eyed in the hallways of the Giant Center.
His coach, Bob Gano, consoled him by saying Gardner would show everyone how good a wrestler he was with a state title the next year. Gardner made that his goal, the way he wanted to cap his years with the Canners.
So sure of his potential, he also made a bet with Gano. If no wrestler scored an offensive point against him, Gano would buy Gardner ice cream from Bruster's Real Ice Cream for an entire week.
During this wrestling season, an elementary school student approached Gardner and asked if he could take a picture to accompany a story he was writing for class. Gardner said he'd only pose if the student joined him.
"What a great kid to make sure he was part of it," Gano said. "He's one in a million. Just the kind of kid you want in your program. Laike is the poster child for doing everything right."
When choosing a college to attend, Gardner wanted a school with strong engineering and wrestling programs. He had developed an interest in disassembling things and also liked the idea of building roller coasters. Wrestling, he thought, would be an avenue for an education.
Lehigh University became an early option. Coaches there contacted him the first day they could start recruiting. Of course, there were several obstacles.
First, Gardner needed the grades to qualify for the academically rigorous school. No problem. He is ranked in the top 20 of his class.
Second, he would have to show the necessary talent to compete on a team that finished eighth at the NCAA Division I Championships. No worries. He won a school-record 165 matches at Biglerville.
Gardner, the All-Area Wrestler of the Year, accepted a partial scholarship
Gardner disassembled opponents this season, beating eventual 132-pound state champion (and future Lehigh teammate) Randy Cruz a week before the PIAA Class AA Championships. Gardner added a win against state title runner-up Dylan D'Urso during the regular season and tournament wins over the wrestlers who would eventually finish fourth, sixth and eighth.
He engineered a roller coaster ride through the state tournament.
His first two wins represented the towering approach toward his goal of winning the 132-pound state championship, but a 5-3 loss in the semifinal round to D'Urso was a sickening drop that ended the dream. The defeat was just his fifth of the year.
"It was pretty disappointing," Gardner said. "(A state title) was what I looked forward to all year. It was kind of a letdown. It was such a buildup until that point."
Added Gano: "It was heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking knowing what that kid put in. He's done everything we've asked, never taken a shortcut. It was tough for me, too. He said, 'I've done everything right, I've done everything you asked me to do. Why does this happen?' There was nothing I could say. I don't think there was anything anyone could say."
Gardner rebounded with consecutive wins, including an 8-5 victory in the third-place match. It was little consolation despite what Gano said about how the weight class was one of the most challenging in the state and how any of the top four competitors could have won the title.
A few weeks later, Gano went to St. Louis to watch the NCAA Division I Championships. He had first-row seats at the 50-yard line -- the event was held at the St. Louis Rams' Edward Jones Dome -- and he texted Gardner a photo of his view.
Gardner responded he would have a better seat next year while competing in the meet.
"He's hungry," Gano said. "He's going to be a great college wrestler. Sometimes a kid will win an NCAA championship, but don't win a state title. Lehigh is going to get a gem."
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--- Ian Brown, soph., Hanover: Brown lost four times this season, three times to Schuylkill Valley's Arty Walsh. The final loss came in the third-place match at the PIAA Class AA Individual Tournament, but he finished the season ranked third by PA Wrestling Rankings at 126 pounds.
--- Brad Farley, sr., Bermudian Springs: Farley committed to Clarion University, which finished 18th at the NCAA Division I wrestling tournament. He finished the season 44-3 after placing fourth at the Class AA state tournament at 120 pounds.
--- Logan Feeser, jr., South Western: He finished the season 30-7 after reaching the second day of the Class AA individual state tournament despite having trouble making weight because of a midseason growth spurt.
--- Tyler Fitzkee, sr., Bermudian Springs: Fitzkee was the heart and soul for a Bermudian Springs team that finished fifth in the PIAA Class AA Team Tournament. He missed the PIAA Class AA Individual Tournamnet after getting sick at the PIAA Class AA Southeast Regional tournament.
--- Laike Gardner, sr., Biglerville: The All-Area Wrestler of the Year is attending powerhouse Lehigh University. He'll be practicing with Randy Cruz, the 132-pound state champion whom Gardner beat the week before the PIAA tournament.
--- Trevor Hernandez, sr., Biglerville: He finished 37-9 this season while wrestling at 126 pounds, maybe the most competitive weight class in Pennsylvania.
--- Austin Jackson, soph., Bermudian Springs: Jackson went 35-11 and made the state tournament at 132 pounds, another of the toughest weight classes in the state. If he hadn't run into Biglerville's Laike Gardner twice, he could've won district and sectional titles.
--- Clay Kocsis, jr., Fairfield: Kocsis finished eighth at the PIAA Class AA tournament at 152 pounds after going the regular season undefeated. The lucky socks he wears every match helped him go 35-5.
--- Tyler Lieberum, jr., Biglerville: Lieberum missed the Class AA state tournament after coming in sixth at the regional round, one spot from qualifying. He finished 34-12.
--- Brock Linebaugh, jr., Bermudian Springs: Linebaugh protected against opposing teams forfeiting to teammate Tristan Sponseller at 182 pounds. He reached the PIAA Class AA tournament and finished 38-15.
--- Tristan Sponseller, soph., Bermudian Springs: Sponseller has started his high school career 93-8 and finished third in the 170-pound bracket at the Class AA state tournament after going 0-2 at 152 pounds last year as a freshman.
--- Trevor Stover, jr., Biglerville: The heavyweight developed throughout the season and finished fifth in the PIAA Class AA tournament despite an injured knee.
--- Ryan Vaughn, sr., Littlestown: Vaughn missed the start of the season because of Lyme disease, which left him constantly tired. He finished 23-9 while wrestling at 220 and reached the PIAA Class AA Southeast Regionals.
--- Derek Wolford, sr., Hanover: Wolford went 37-2 his senior year, the only losses coming in the Southeast Regional final to Boiling Springs' Logan Murphy and in the PIAA Class AA championships at 195 to Milton junior Ryan Solomon.
--- Jerome Beers, sr., South Western
--- Zack Clingan, soph., Spring Grove
--- Jasper Hankey, soph., Biglerville
--- Michael Hartman, soph., Spring Grove
--- Joe Hurda, soph., Biglervlle
--- Jonatan Jimenez, sr., Bermudian Springs
--- Dakota Laughman, soph., Spring Grove
--- Ted Marines, soph., Bermudian Springs
--- Aram Moffitt, jr., South Western
--- Cameron Scalio, jr., Fairfield
--- Tyler Shafer, soph., Hanover
--- Jordan Stouch, sr., Gettysburg
--- Joel Zepp, soph., New Oxford
--- Alec Zorbaugh, soph., Spring Grove