Lehighton looking to peak at right time
BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Lehighton's Briar Stern pins Northern York's Kelton Mehls in the consolation bracket of the Bethlehem Holiday Tournament recently.
Any season can have its share of peaks and valleys.
Lehighton has experienced that kind of ebb and flow as this campaign reaches its midpoint.
The Indians have a good mix of veterans and younger wrestlers and for the most part have been competitive, but as Lehighton coach Floyd Brown pointed out, there is always room for improvement.
"We're 8-6 right now, and we could be better than that," said the Indians' mentor. "When we're on, we can be pretty good, but when we are off, we struggle."
The Tribe had hoped to make some noise in the Mountain Valley Conference mat circles, but thus far the Indians are sitting at 1-3 heading into Wednesday's match at Pleasant Valley.
That might say more about the overall strength of the MVC than it does about any perceived Indians' shortcomings, however.
"The MVC is much improved this season," noted Brown. "Stroudsburg and Pleasant Valley are always good, but some of the teams that have been on the bottom tier are getting better."
While Brown suggested the Indians could be 10-4 at this point, they have had their moments.
The Indians won the Jim Thorpe Christmas Tournament as a last minute entry, placing second at the Anthracite Duals at Panther Valley, ending up third to some Class AAA teams at their own Indian Duals, and coming in fourth in a strong field at the season-opening Brandywine Heights tournament. They also took home three medals from the always-tough Bethlehem Holiday tournament.
Lehighton is now gearing up for the home stretch, and it will be able to play its strongest hand in the process.
With the two-pound allowance now in play, senior David Lucykanish, who has become the third Indian to hit the 100-win plateau (joining Derek Brownmiller and Steve Hawk), has dropped down to 145 pounds, opening things up for the rest of the line-up.
"With David dropping down, it has made us a whole lot better," said Brown. "It has allowed us to get some more experienced upper weights into the line-up."
Lucykanish has topped the Tribe with a 23-4 mark, followed by senior heavyweight Briar Stern, a state qualifier last year, at 16-7; sophomore Anthony Farole, who is 16-9 at 135; and junior Jeremy Gornick, who is 15-9 at 119.
Indians who have hit double digits in the win column also include sophomores Zach Coleman (14-11 at 140), Jake Hoats (13-12 at 103), Mitch Moyer (a former District junior high runner-up, who is 12-11 at 152), Mike Balliet (11-8 at 160) and senior Matt Dorward (12-12 at 189), who placed sixth at the District 11 tournament last year.
John Mertz (9-6) and Nate Black (8-8) team with Stern to give the Indians seniors in the upper weights, which have become deeper with freshman Jacen Nalesnik (4-2) jumping in the line-up at 215.
Brown has also gotten contributions from soph Jason McEvoy, a former District junior high placewinner, juniors Zach Zellers and Brian Piekarski, and senior Matt Schaeffer.
The Tribe will have a big battle on its hands at Pleasant Valley on Wednesday. The Bears have been tough on the Indians in recent years, but Brown feels it will be a good challenge.
"We match up pretty well with them," he noted. "They are strong from 105-145, and we are strong from 145 to heavyweight. It could come down to not getting pinned."
Lehighton is looking to qualify for the District 11 Class AA Duals field again, which Brown hopes will serve as a springboard for a postseason peak for his squad.
"The whole season is practice for February," he stressed.
DISTRICT DUALS COMING UP - This year's District 11 Team Championships are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Feb. 5-6, at Freedom High School in Bethlehem.
There will be 10-team fields in both Class AA and AAA, with the top two teams advancing to PIAA state competition the following week.
The participating teams and their pairings will be announced by the District 11 Wrestling Committee on Thursday, Feb. 4.
As many as five TIMES NEWS area teams could qualify for the tournament, according to the District's system of rating teams based on their won-lost records (against Pennsylvania teams only).
In Class AA, Northern Lehigh (12-4) and Northwestern (12-7) appear to be good bets to qualify. Lehighton is a Class AA school in a Class AAA league (the MVC), which will give the Indians extra points and should get them into the tournament. Panther Valley, which is 7-7, is also in the running.
The AA bracket should include Bethlehem Catholic (8-2), Pen Argyl (10-0), Saucon Valley (17-2), Pius X (16-3) and Tri-Valley (16-6), not necessarily in that order. Catasauqua (10-8), North Schuylkill (4-4) and Notre Dame-Green Pond (9-10) are also among the contenders.
In Class AAA, Pleasant Valley is 7-3 and is vying to qualify again. Stroudsburg (10-3) and Pocono Mountain East (12-5) are other MVC teams that could make the field, and East Stroudsburg South (11-11) is on the bubble.
Lehigh Valley powers Parkland (16-0), Nazareth (9-1), Northampton (10-2), Whitehall (11-3), Liberty (11-5), Easton (8-6) and Freedom (5-6) are jockeying for position, as is Blue Mountain (6-1) from the Schuylkill League.
The records provided have been taken from the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) website and are up to an including Jan. 24. They also reflect all matches wrestled, not just those against Pa. teams.
(as of Jan. 24)
Pen Argyl (10-0) 8-0
Northern Lehigh (12-4) 8-2
Northwestern (12-7) 8-2
Catasauqua (10-8) 4-4
Bangor (6-8) 2-5
Palmerton (3-10) 2-6
Saucon Valley (17-2) 7-1
Notre Dame-GP (9-10) 4-3
Southern Lehigh (3-5) 3-5
Palisades (3-7) 2-6
Wilson (4-9) 2-7
Salisbury (0-14) 0-9
Pleasant Valley (7-3) 3-0
Stroudsburg (10-3) 3-0
Pocono Mt. East (12-5) 2-1
E. Strouds. South (11-11) 1-2
E. Strouds. North (6-14) 1-3
Lehighton (8-6) 1-3
Pocono Mt. West (5-10) 1-3
Blue Mountain (6-1) 3-0
Shamokin (5-3) 3-0
Tri-Valley (16-6) 3-1
North Schuylkill (4-4) 1-2
Pottsville (5-6) 1-2
Pine Grove (3-8) 0-3
Tamaqua (3-13) 0-3
Mount Carmel (9-3) 3-0
Upper Dauphin (7-10) 4-1
Panther Valley (7-7) 3-1
Halifax (5-4) 4-2
Schuyl. Haven (2-9) 2-2
Williams Valley (5-8) 1-2
Mahanoy Area (0-8) 0-4
Jim Thorpe (0-8) 0-5