5 wrestlers ready for best in state
As you scan the brackets of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships, you see the vast majority of records with a single digit in the loss column.
That's to be expected; this is the best of the best in Pennsylvania.
But you won't find single-digit losses after the names of the three Northern Lebanon entries in states. Luke Funck is 41-12 at 160, Evan Daub (170) is 41-11 and Craig Spitler is 34-18 at 182.
The records may not be gaudy, but the Vikings are seriously battle-tested. And they will be tested again starting Thursday at 9 a.m. at Giant Center when the tournament begins.
"Most of our losses have come against kids who are state qualifiers," NL coach Rusty Wallace Jr. said. "They are real losses, to quality kids. It's part of our philosophy – we want a tough schedule. If you see a kid in Pa. who is undefeated, that means he's either one of the top kids in the country or his team didn't wrestle a good schedule."
Having been in the District 3 and PIAA team tournaments, as well as several other quality events during the regular season, the Vikings haven't shied away from anybody.
Now the next three days will determine how much that experience benefits them.
The other two Lebanon County entries at states are from Annville-Cleona – Josh Renninger at 132 (41-13) and Jeff Inman at 152 (32-3).
It's interesting that Inman has the best area record, but he may have received the toughest draw. His first match is against Jacob Oliver of Huntingdon (38-2) and if he wins that his likely foe is Billy Barnes of Southern Columbia (34-1).
Little Dutchmen coach Jerome Simon said, "Jeff has a tall task in his first match, and if he gets by him, he'll get an even taller task in the next round. He did wrestle Barnes last year and lost 3-1, so he kept it close."
Renninger and Spitler will participate in something new at states, the preliminary round. PIAA has increased the brackets from 16- to 20-man fields, meaning four prelim bouts in each weight class will be wrestled first.
Spitler's opponent is Dakotah Manning of Towanda (30-10), while Renninger meets Blake Carl of Line Mountain (33-14). Originally, Renninger's foe was Carl Gorg of Williamson (34-6), but the Northeast Regional's runner-up must have withdrawn, so Gorg moved up and Carl was brought in at No. 4.
"On paper, it's a better matchup," Simon said. "Josh is such a tall, lanky kid and he can be dangerous."
Funck takes on South Fayette's Jared Walker (35-4), while Daub faces Derek Dragon of Lake Lehman (40-5).
Wallace said he believes his three kids enter states at the top of their game.
"I think we're peaking at the right time and the kids have gotten better," he said. "Evan put together a super tournament in regionals (placing second) and you'd be a fool to bet against him. Luke drew a pretty tough kid, but he's been wrestling very well.
"Craig has been secretly doing a heck of a job just impressing people every weekend and moving on. Not many people figured he'd get to states, but the guys in the room knew he could."
NOTES >> Prelim and first-round losers will wrestle once more Thursday in a consolation round bout ... First-round winners are off until the quarterfinals begin Friday at 9 a.m. ... Class AA semifinals are Friday evening ... Daub, Spitler and Inman are seniors, Renninger is a junior and Funck is a sophomore.