Wrestling notebook: Hanford earns a 7th-place medal

HERSHEY — Jeremy Hanford couldn’t hide his smile. The color medal hanging around his neck wasn’t for the place in the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships he had hoped it would be earlier this week, but he also couldn’t pretend like he was disappointed either.

Hanford became the first Warrior Run wrestler to win state medals since Elias Biddle and Tyler Hain in 2009 and 2010 by finishing seventh at 126 pounds Saturday. Hanford couldn’t wipe the smile off his face because he understands the difficult journey he took to win his two state medals.

He finished eighth as a junior at 126 pounds.

“Wrestling has been my life since I was 4,” Hanford said. “It’s done so much for me and I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish.”

Hanford made his seventh-place match against Northern Lebanon’s Colin Leonard look quite easy, winning, 12-1. But it was possible because of the change he made in his preparation and wrestling style following a disappointing end to his sophomore season.

After qualifying for the state tournament, but not earning a medal, he trusted in new head coach Jeremy Betz and assistant Jason Guffey when they preached to the entire team about picking up the pace in each match they wrestled.

Hanford bought into the philosophy immediately, making it difficult for opponents to match his conditioning and his drive for six minutes. It was that kind of pace which led him to a lopsided victory in his final career match to earn his highest place at the state tournament.

“I feel like a completely different wrestler than I was earlier,” Hanford said. “I have a lot more confidence and my coaches put it in me to keep the pace up. They’re the reason I’ve pushed the pace throughout the years.

“It’s been my goal to win (states), but I came out with two medals in three years, so I’m pretty happy.”

FUEL FOR COLLEGE

In a few years, Wyatt Lutz says he’ll be able to look back on his high school wrestling career and be proud of what he accomplished. But right now, in the afterglow of a fifth-place finish at 113 pounds when he thought he had a chance to win the tournament, he can’t fully enjoy all he’s done.

But it’s all merely fuel for the future. Lutz will attend West Virginia University next fall and join the wrestling team there after a career which includes two state medals and 154 career victories. And coming up just short of the state gold he had his sights set on will only help drive him to improve in college.

“My next goal is to be a D1 All-American,” Lutz said. “I’m glad that there’s something to bounce back on, because I don’t know what I’d do without wrestling after this.”

The disappointment was palpable in his voice after settling for fifth place. He was shattered by an 11-4 loss to Mount Union’s Josh Boozel in Friday night’s semifinals. Boozel went on to win the state championship Saturday afternoon, and Lutz went on to drop his ensuing consolation semifinal bout, 4-2, to end up in the fifth-place match.

“I was upset about the semifinal loss the whole night and it carried over to my next match a little too much,” Lutz said. “My motto is ‘I like to end the tournament with an odd number.’ That was my goal. Even though it’s not what I wanted overall, it would be the best thing to finish my last match with a win.”

FINALLY A MEDALIST

A week ago, Lewisburg’s Andrew Shedleski said he wouldn’t let what happen in this week’s state tournament define his career. But he admitted Saturday, after finishing seventh at 182 pounds, that it was much easier walking out of the Giant Center with a state medal than it would have been without.

The senior is bound for Lehigh next year where he will join numerous other District alums on the wrestling team. But he was thankful for everything wrestling for Lewisburg brought to him over the course of the last four years Saturday, because it was the reason the doors to Lehigh were an option.

Shedleski defeated Jersey Shore’s Hunter O’Connor in the seventh-place match, 3-1, to earn his first state medal in his third trip to Hershey. The 140 career wins he graduated with are the third-most in school history.

“I finally got what I’ve been coming here three years for,” Shedleski said. “It makes it easier to walk out of here, but it’s still emotional ending your high school career. I’m sad it’s over because I had so much fun wrestling for coach (Jim) Snyder, coach (Justin) Michaels and Doc (Mike Brown). It’s been a ride and I’m going to miss it. But I’m real excited to keep competing and move up to the next level and do better and better.”

A NEW ROLE MODEL

Justin Kriner hopes he is someone the next generation of North Penn-Liberty wrestlers can look at as a positive example. He lived through the work it took to go from being a solid heavyweight to being a state fifth-place finisher, including the cutting of some 40 pounds at the start of this season.

But he knows there’s some wrestlers with a lot of potential coming through the program and he wants to be someone they can look at and see the hard work pays off.

“This is a big accomplishment for me,” Kriner said. “This means a lot to me. Coming in here for the first time and placing fifth, it means a lot.”

Kriner suffered through heartbreak in back-to-back years as a sophomore and junior coming up one win short of earning a spot in the state tournament. But once he finally got to Hershey, he made the most of his opportunity.

His only two losses in the tournament were to eventual state runner-up Bishop McCoy of South Side Beaver, and eventual third-place finisher Josiah Jones of Bishop McCort. Each match was a one-point loss.

“This showed me I’m capable of a lot,” Kriner said. “These one-point matches have been a thing for me my whole career. It’s why I’m so comfortable in them.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Jersey Shore’s Hunter O’Connor is already looking ahead to his final wrestling season. He’ll have one final football season to prepare for before that wrestling season ever comes along, but getting a taste of success at the state tournament this weekend has already stoked his fire.

O’Connor finished eighth at 182 pounds Saturday, dropping a 3-1 match to Shedleski. But he enjoyed his spot on the PIAA’s podium on the Giant Center, and he’s not going to settle for anything less than standing on a taller pedestal on that podium next year.

“I have to place higher than I did this year, and I don’t want anything less than that,” O’Connor said. “I want to be in that top five. I just have to work hard and keep pushing.”

It was O’Connor’s goal at the beginning of the season to be one of the eight wrestlers standing on the podium, and he never wavered from that goal. He took every brutal battle he had with Southern Columbia’s Gaige Garcia as an opportunity to test himself and prepare himself for the moment when he needed a win to get on to that podium.

He was able to get a fall in a bout he had been losing in the blood round on Friday when it was its most crucial. That win earned O’Connor his season-long goal.

“I just need to keep improving on the little things, from how I’m wrestling on top and on bottom, to everywhere else,” O’Connor said. “This motivates me for next year because I want to do bigger and better things. I’ll be working hard this summer for it.”

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