Mt. Lebanon has started checking off some of its team goals.
After a sixth-place finish last year, the Blue Devils took second out of 39 teams at the Allegheny County Championships on Saturday, accomplishing their goal of finishing in the top five.
Juniors Kellan Stout (182 pounds) and heavyweight Zeynul Zaynullayev won titles, and 13 different wrestlers scored points to lead Mt. Lebanon to its best ever tournament finish.
“Really, we thought it was a team effort that enabled us to get in that top five and finish as a runner-up,” coach Bill Lewis said. “Some kids didn't place and still won three matches or two matches, and picked up a pin or major decision.”
Thanks to a 9-4 record, 4-1 in Class AAA Section 2B, Lewis' team already has accomplished its second goal of returning to the WPIAL playoffs.
The top five teams from each section advance to the WPIAL team tournament, which begins Monday, and Mt. Lebanon has secured its spot as a top four team in Section 2.
The Section 2 team championships are Wednesday at Peters Township, where the Blue Devils will face top-seeded Belle Vernon in the opening round.
Although he believes in his team's abiilty to win, Stout has grown used to being the underdog and said he's learned to accept his losses better.
“I think it affects some wrestlers,” Stout said. “Me personally, I try not to let it get to me, and in reality it's just a wrestling match. I try not to leave the mat with a bad taste in my mouth. If you don't do that, then you're going to regret it later.”
Everyone agreed the camaraderie the team shares this year has taken them to a new level.
“I've wrestled with the same guys for my whole life pretty much, and I've gone to tournaments with them since I was a little guy,” Stout said. “I think that's really good for the team relationship as a whole. It adds a new tier of understanding.”
Senior Kevin Kinyua, the 120-pound runner-up at the Allegheny County Championships, agreed.
“I've definitely seen that — both on and off the mat — our team is working together to face any problems we have,” Kinyua said. “If a teammate loses, another teammate will go over to them and show them what they could do better and help them to fix their mistakes.”
One of the challenges that Lewis faces for the rest of the season is balancing his efforts between preparing the team for competition and helping talents like Stout and Kinyua, as well as county place winners Sam White (126), Sean Perri (132), R.J. Fitzgerald (145) and Bakhtiyar Zaynullaev (195) among others, prepare for individual tournaments.
“A lot of times, when you try to create an environment for your team collectively where kids are willing to work hard, to take risks, to improve, I think that carries over,” Lewis said, “whether the kid is working to win a state championship or to break into the starting lineup for the first time this year.”
Latrobe (Section 1), Plum (Section 3) and Montour (Section 4) also will host Class AAA tournaments Wednesday.
Class AA tournaments will be at Burgettstown (Section 1), Derry (Section 2) and Burrell (Section 3).
Fifth-place matches also are being held in each section.
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