The GAR football team struggled to a 3-7 record this past season.
Now, two Grenadiers are making up for those troubles on the mats, helping the wrestling program achieve a mark that hadn’t been reached in more than 30 years.
Two junior lineman — Zac Faust and Saul Wilkins — each claimed District 2 Class 2A gold medals over the weekend at the Kingston Armory at 220 pounds and 285. Coupled with 113-pound senior AJ Luton’s title, the Grenadiers crowned three district champions for the first time since 1983. Only two other times in school history has GAR dressed more gold medalists — in 1965 with five and 1955 with four.
There are only five other times in school history when the program had three district champs.
Faust, who has excelled in both sports in the past, recruited Wilkins to wrestle this season because the Grenadiers needed a heavyweight. Having not ever wrestled before, Wilkins thought he’d give it a shot. And after losing a lot to begin his journey, he stuck with it and is now a champion.
It’s something he never imagined.
“It’s been crazy. Coach (Rick Simon) said to keep getting better throughout the year and I could do something at districts and I believed him,” Wilkins said. “I can’t imagine this. It’s great. I still don’t think (I’m great); Zac beats me up everyday.”
Faust, on the other hand, knew Wilkins could excel at wrestling all along.
“Every day I would get on him and tell him he’s going to be really, really good at it and to come out. And everyone else was telling him that,” Faust said. “I’ll tell you what, he’s had a hell of a ride and I’m really proud of him. I’m so glad he pulled it out. Expect it? I definitely had confidence in him going into districts.”
Faust picked up his second district title Saturday night and is looking forward to possibly getting another shot at Wyalusing’s Dylan Otis at this weekend’s Northeast Regional Tournament. Faust’s only loss this season came to Otis in the finals of the Tunkhannock Kiwanis Tournament in December by one point. But he’s not looking that far in advance.
“I still want to wrestle one match at a time, and keep going and keep pushing hard,” he said.
Luton matched Faust with his second district championship. Even though he now has four district medals — two thirds and two firsts — he was admittedly nervous about the weekend and even lost some sleep.
“Over the past week I was having nightmares thinking I was losing. It was scaring me so I was like, ‘I’m not having a nightmare come true.’ I woke up feeling like I wanted to cry,” Luton said. “It definitely gave me motivation. … I just came (Saturday) with a whole different mindset and knew I had to get something done.”
Lake-Lehman junior Derek Dragon picked up his second District 2 Class 2A gold Saturday night. That is a stellar accomplishment, but he won’t be able to catch his cousin, Matt Dragon, who held the district record for career wins for quite some time with 166 and won four district medals.
Derek said he gets advice from his cousin and sees him once in a while. He said anytime you get advice from a state champion, you take it.
“He usually comes to regionals and comes to dual meets when he’s in town,” Derek Dragon said. “He watches my film for me and tells me what to do. Having someone like that tell you what to do is pretty special.”
Getting it done
Lake-Lehman won its third straight district team title and 23rd overall as it slimly held off Meyers by two points.
Both teams had six finalists, with the Black Knights crowning four champions and the Mohawks picking up two gold medalists.
While that’s enough to sway the score in Lehman’s favor, the real decider came in the 160-pound final when the teams went head-to-head and Bobby Wright held on for a 9-5 win over the Mohawks’ Johntae Nelson.
“We don’t have a full lineup but the guys we do have, we’re pretty solid with them,” Wright said. “We all want to get (our names) up on the (wrestling room) wall. My friends got there last year and I wasn’t able to. Now it’s great to be there with them.”
An astonishing mark
The Wyoming Valley Conference crowned 12 champions in Class 2A on Saturday. It was the most the WVC has ever had in the 2A classification since it won all 13 weight classes in 1996.