Sickness can’t keep Lutz from title

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Montoursville’s Wyatt Lutz wrestles Southern Columbia’s Patrick Edmondson in the finals of the District 4 Class AA tournament last month.

Wyatt Lutz said he felt like he never conditioned a day in his life. His nose was clogged and he had a sore throat, too.

The Montoursville senior 113-pounder was sick as a dog all week leading into the PIAA Class AA Northeast Regional tournament. Although he felt it as he was on the mat for his three matches this past weekend, he didn’t show it in his performance.

Lutz captured his first Northeast Regional championship with a trio of bonus-point wins, including a pair of technical falls. He was one of three Montoursville wrestlers to capture a regional championship Saturday.

“I usually feel good right after the match, but give it an hour and I’ll probably feel like crap again,” Lutz said. “I just needed to be tough about it and push the pace. I couldn’t let sickness get to me, that doesn’t solve anything.”

So Lutz approached the tournament like he wasn’t sick. His pace was still high. He still forced the action.

He said he struggled Friday night in his quarterfinal against Muncy’s Mario Barberio. Lutz settled for a 9-1 win, which was his fifth bonus-point win in his first six postseason matches. After technical falls in the semifinals and finals, Lutz has seven bonus-point wins in eight postseason matches this year.

“It was annoying that I made it the whole season without getting sick and then it happens at one of the most important times,” Lutz said. “I’m going to do my best to get back close to 100 percent. I’ll probably take the day off (Sunday), rest all week and get back into it at practice.”

Lutz is the No. 3 seed for this week’s state tournament at 113 pounds, behind only returning state champion Beau Bayless of Reynolds, who is the top seed, and Mount Union’s Josh Boozel, who is a returning state runner-up and No. 2 seed.

But outside of being sick, he feels as though he’s in as good a place with his wrestling as he’s ever been. And getting back to the state tournament is something he’s looked forward to since he finished third at last year’s state tournament.

And after running through the regional bracket with his worst sickness of the season, Lutz is carrying all kinds of confidence into the state tournament.

“The sickness is something I can’t control,” Lutz said. “I don’t want to think about it much when I’m on the mat because it won’t do anything for me. It won’t give me more points to think about it.”

A year ago, Lutz cruised into the state tournament as a bit of an unknown. He had given some stellar battles to Southern Columbia’s Jaret Lane throughout the regular season and postseason, but didn’t have the credentials to make him one of the favorites in Hershey.

That was of little consequence to Lutz, though. The West Virginia University recruit put on a show in Hershey, scoring 30 points in his five matches. His lone loss came in the semifinals to Bishop McDevitt’s Chase Shields in ultimate tie-break.

But otherwise, Lutz was money. He closed out the tournament wearing the singlet his dad, Carl, wore when he won a state championship for Montoursville in 1974.

That tournament run by Lutz has made him a marked man all year. It’s a position he’s never been in before as he always seemed to be chasing someone, whether it was Alan Diltz as a freshman, Joe Klock as a sophomore and Lane as a junior. But it’s something he’s enjoyed.

He tries his best not to let the pressure of those expectations get to him. His struggles at the Powerade in December were as much about his weight and finding the right weight class as anything else. And since coming down to 113 pounds, he’s been nothing but dominant. He’s won 29 consecutive bouts since the Powerade and enters states as one of 29 wrestlers in District 4 history with 150 career wins, and he can climb as high as fourth on the Montoursville career wins list this weekend behind only teammate Gavin Hoffman, former teammate Garrett Hoffman, and four-time state placewinner Luke Frey.

“My goal is to wrestle freely and give it everything I have,” Lutz said. “In the back of my head I believed that I could get to the top of the podium every time I’ve been down (to states). I like what I’ve done with my career, but I’m not done yet.”

ONE MORE TIME?

As Benton’s Cole Rhone climbed to the top of the podium to accept his 132-pound championship medal, he offered a pat on the back to Muncy’s Joe Klock. The two are rivals with a long history together, but both appreciate the effort and energy which has gone in to each of their three bouts this year.

Even Klock, after taking a 5-0 loss to Rhone in the 132-pound regional final, couldn’t help but smile when talking about the matchups between the two. And he couldn’t help but smile even wider as he talked about the potential of the two former teammates meeting again this week in the state final.

“I’d love for it to happen again,” Klock said. “I love having good matches. It makes me better. It entertains the crowd.”

The throngs of people packed into the Magic Dome at Williamsport High School on Saturday were definitely entertained as the two created chance after chance after chance. Klock was definitely the aggressor, getting in deep on shots and getting to Rhone’s legs, not unlike their first meeting in a dual meet in late January.

Rhone just never got out of position. And when Klock did get in deep, Rhone found ways to negate the backdoor finishes Klock used in their second matchup at sectionals which led to Klock’s lone win in the rivalry.

The only point scored through the first 5 1/2 minutes was when Rhone chose bottom to start the third period and Klock let him to his feet to work for a takedown. Rhone expanded the lead with a late four-point move as Klock went for broke in the final 10 seconds for a 5-0 win.

But while disappointed, Klock didn’t leave the gym unhappy. He got to the things he wanted to. There was no hint of a struggle with the left knee in which he has a torn meniscus. The only sign that he wasn’t completely healthy is he wasn’t quite as explosive on bottom as he has been in the past, and Rhone was able to ride him for the entire second period.

“I’m not going to blame it on my knee, but I was obviously weaker on bottom this time around,” said Klock, who forfeited the district final to Rhone because of the knee injury. “He’s tough on top and he’s good with his legs. He was doing a really good job of throwing in that left boot and I was having trouble getting it out.”

Rhone and Klock should most certainly enter this week’s state tournament as the top two-ranked 132-pounders in the state. Rhone is the top seed as he returns from last year’s state runner-up finish. And it’s hard to imagine that this rivalry doesn’t get a fourth round in the state final.

As much as Klock would like one more shot at it, he understands a lot has to happen before that point.

“A state championship is my singular focus, but you still have to take it one match at a time,” Klock said. “I’m going out there and going after it and that’s all I can ask for.”

SHRUG EMOJI

Justin Gessner isn’t sure why everything is clicking for him right now. He’s putting in more time at practice, but the Lewisburg junior 120-pounder isn’t doing anything drastically different in his wrestling.

But here he is, nonetheless, just a few days from making his debut in Hershey for the PIAA Wrestling Tournament. Yeah, he’s a little surprised by that as well. The best he could do to explain how everything is coming together is best exemplified in a shrug emoji.

“The coaches told me if I worked hard enough, I had a chance. But I wasn’t positive,” said Gessner, after his fourth-place finish at the Northeast Regional. “I knew if I took it period-by-period and match-by-match, focus on what’s ahead of me, then I could work for this.”

Gessner understands the cliched nature of that explanation, but he stands firmly behind it because it proved to be true. He posted a major decision over District 2 runner-up Zack Stuart of Lake-Lehman on Friday night before losing to state champ Jaret Lane in the semifinals. But in the blood round, he continued to score points, posting an 11-2 win to secure his spot at states.

His run didn’t come without its heart-stopping moments. He got caught in a spladle in both the quarterfinals and consolation semifinals, but avoided giving up back points each time. It allowed him to recover and eventually get back to his offense, which was on point.

“I haven’t changed a thing,” Gessner said. “I’ve stayed the same throughout the year, I’ve just improved in each position. I surprised myself. I wasn’t expecting to make it this far, really.”

ALL SMILES — KINDA

Jeremy Hanford wasn’t happy with his third-place finish at the Northeast Regional on Saturday, and that kept a smile from his face. But following his third-place match, the Warrior Run senior knew he got back to doing the things which make him so dangerous, which put a smile back on his face.

Hanford heads into his third state tournament believing he is the same guy who had such a tremendous start to the season. He believes he’s a wrestler who can make a run deep into the tournament, which is important because he’s no longer happy just being in Hershey.

“The last two times down there all I wanted to do was place,” Hanford said. “Now I want to be on top. That’s my only goal right now.”

Hanford said he got away from the pace he likes to create in losses in the last two weeks to Athens’ A.J. Burkhart and Valley View’s Brandon Judge, two wrestlers who will join him in the 126-pound bracket in Hershey this week. But he found it again when he posted an 11-6 win over Midd-West freshman Avery Bassett in the regional third-place match.

“Those losses showed me where I need to be,” Hanford said. “I need to pick up the pace earlier and keep it throughout matches and that’s where I’ll need to be next week.”

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