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Northern Lebanon took long way to state finals

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HERSHEY – There probably is not an easy way for a team to reach the PIAA wrestling finals. If there was, however, Northern Lebanon certainly did not take it to the Class 2A championship match.

The Vikings, who needed to win a District 3 third-place match against Upper Dauphin last Saturday just to qualify for states, had to win a preliminary round match against Wilson Area just to get to the big show at Giant Center.

But that was when it really began to get interesting, as Northern Lebanon would become the first Lancaster-Lebanon League team to reach the finals, and the first team to finish third in its district and reach the state championship match. Those records apply to both Class 2A and 3A tourneys, which have existed since 1999.

But Northern Lebanon's run wasn't memorable because of which league it came from or what place it had finished in during districts. What made it memorable was who the Vikings had to face during a 48-hour stretch at Giant Center.

Starting with a round of 16 match with defending state champ Brookville (29-27) on Thursday, followed with victories over Southern Columbia (36-31) and Bishop McDevitt (30-30, criteria), and culminating with Saturday's 54-18 loss in the finals to Reynolds, the Vikings faced four straight district champions and beat three of them.

Those four opponents had a combined 80-1 record when Northern Lebanon faced them. If that was not enough to verify the difficult road that the Vikings traveled, those opponents also did well in the consolation bracket after Northern Lebanon defeated them. Southern Columbia finished third, Brookville fourth and Bishop McDevitt tied for fifth in the 16-team tourney.

But Northern Lebanon had been preparing for this in December and January by getting into some high profile tournaments, where they may or may not have lined up against those teams, but at least saw what they could do.

“The nice thing about our schedule, you get here and look at the teams who are here, and you've seen them before,” Northern Lebanon head coach Rusty Wallace said. “The big tournaments we're in, they keep your wrestlers from being in awe of who they see here.”

Although Reynolds won 11 of the 14 bouts in the championship match on Saturday, Northern Lebanon won of 23 of the 39 individual matches in their three wins previous to that. Of the 26 wins the Vikings earned at Giant Center, 10 of them were pins.

Luke Funck and Blaise Bressler each went 4-0 with three pins for Northern Lebanon, Funck at 182 and 195, Bressler at 152.

But Northern Lebanon also survived and advanced through the team bracket with some key narrow wins. Twice, Luis Negerios won overtime decisions, once at 160 and once at 170. Zack Kelly added an overtime win at 138 in the semifinal against Bishop McDevitt, which also featured one of Negerios' overtime wins and a 1-0 win at 285 by Kyle Sonnen. Each point proved vital as the Vikings won 30-30, via criteria D: most bouts won.