N. Lebanon's Luke Funck hopes to join exclusive club
Luke Funck has a chance to join a very exclusive club this weekend.
It's so exclusive, in fact, that - so far - there is only one member.
That club's simple name is: PIAA Wrestling Champions from Lebanon County.
Northern Lebanon's Jim Collins did the trick in 2001. Funck, also a Vikings' wrestler, would dearly love to join him when the PIAA Championships are held this Thursday through Saturday at Giant Center.
Funck, at 182 pounds, and five other NL teammates - Kyler Anspach (41-14 at 106), Colin Leonard (36-18 at 120), Trevor Leonard (41-13 at 132), Zach Kelly (41-9 at 138) and Hunter Wallace (35-20 at 220) - will compete in Class 2A, which begins Thursday morning at 9, continues Friday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.
The county has only one Class 3A entrant, Leo Higgins of Palmyra, wrestling at 182. 3A sessions are Thursday at 4 p.m., Friday at 2:15 p.m. and Saturday at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Funck appears to have the best chance to bring back a gold medal. He placed fourth last year, and he's racked up a 46-3 record this year.
"I think he's the best kid in the bracket," Vikings coach Rusty Wallace said, "and I like the way he's competing right now, and where he is mentally. Kids are adjusting to his style to take away what he's good at, but he's still scoring points in other ways.
"I always like Luke's chances ... but every round will be a tough one."
Indeed, at his weight there are three other state placewinners back from 182 and another up from 170 from last year. In his first bout, Funck is expecting to get returning sixth-place finisher Christian Hutzell of Meyersdale (21-9), an opponent he beat twice at states last year, 8-3 and 6-3.
The Southwest regional champion, Dominic Fundy of Beth-Center is 36-0 and could face Funck in the semifinals. Three returning placers dot the lower half of the bracket - Cody Mulligan of Saegertown (42-3, 6th at 170), Jared Mooney of Palmerton (32-1, 8th) and Zachary Zimmerman of Troy (30-3, 5th), and two others earned PIAA experience last year.
Wallace is excited about his other kids' chances, too.
"I like our spots in the brackets," he said. "I think all six of kids have winnable matches in their first round."
One thing the Vikings have in their favor is that the aura of Giant Center shouldn't faze them. They've been in the facility for the last three years for the PIAA Team Championships, plus this year's District 3 event.
"Most of these kids have wrestled 20 or so matches at Giant Center," Wallace said. "So it's a familiar setting, and it's one advantage we have. I think our kids can keep it in perspective. We've been to a lot of other tournaments that are just as tough.
"We know when you get here, you can throw all the records, seeds and what you did last week right out the window."
CLASS 3A: Palmyra's Higgins is making his first appearance in the PIAA tournament. In a 182 preliminary bout, Higgins (35-5) will take on Fox Chapel's Mike Mahon (34-4). The winner will face Travis Stefanik of Nazareth (33-2).