Sunday, March 5, 2017

Wrestling: Lightner joins Del Val elite in state title run

ATLANTIC CITY -- Just mere moments after winning his first state championship, Delaware Valley junior Kyle Lightner was already geared up for a repeat.

"Next year, I'm coming for another," said Lightner, who capped a dominating run to the 195-pound crown with a 5-1 win over Collingswood senior Michael Taulane on Sunday at Boardwalk Hall.

Lightner (42-2) captured Delaware Valley's ninth state championship and its first since Dan Kelly won at 112 in 2007. He was one of two winners for the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex area, joining Lenape Valley senior Nick Palumbo, who rolled his school's first title at 145 pounds.
Kyle Lightner and Nick Palumbo were crowned first-time champs on Sunday.

Among those champs for the Terriers are two-time winners Jamie Wicks (1987-88) and Brent Conly (1992-93), and Lightner is eager to become just the third to win back-to-back titles.

"This feels great. It feels amazing to be up there with the legends at Del Val," said Lightner, who is Hunterdon County's first champ since Hunterdon Central's Alex Shaffer won at 119 in 2010. "They are the people I always wanted to be like. I wanted to be Jamie Wicks."

Speaking of Wicks, who was in attendance on Sunday, Del Val coach Andy Fitz likened his wrestler to the legendary champ earlier this season. There are some physical similarities and Lightner's style is a lot like Wicks, known as a dominant mat wrestler -- turning opponents with legs and cranking them over with a vicious power half.

"He is Wicks-esque, you can say," said Fitz, who has his first state champ in 10 seasons after guiding Bobby Stevely to the 125-pound final in 2010. "The power half was Jamie's go-to move and Kyle's."

Lightner, now 68-10 overall, got a takedown in the first period and nearly rode Taulane, who pinned Lightner with a headlock last season, for the entire second period without giving up a point until he was called for locked hands with five seconds left on the clock.

"It was locked hands," Lightner admitted. "I realized as soon as I did it. I wasted a lot of energy trying to not give up a point, and I did."

Lightner escaped early in the third period for a 3-1 lead and later spun behind Taulane for a match-icing takedown with five seconds left on the clock.

"I wasn't real offensive as I usually am," Lightner said. "He was a real strong boy."

Like Palumbo, competing in freestyle and Greco Roman helped Lightner to his title run. In fact, he doesn't believe it would have been possible without that experience, not to mention being fanatical about practice sessions.

"I was able to control the ties. The whole third period was using ties and Russians ... that's from wrestling Greco," said Lightner, who placed at Fargo over the summer and said he enjoyed freestyle as well. "It worked well. I didn't let him get a single bit of offense on me."

Lightner will most likely get right back to work after doing some physics homework at home on Sunday night, while taking time to celebrate his best win to date.

"I love being on the mat because I care so much about this sport," he said.

Practice was the key to a title run, according to Fitz.

"He was always a competitor, but he wasn't necessarily into the practice end of it," said Fitz, who placed fifth in the state at 160 pounds as a senior in 1990. "The last two or three years, he devoured the practice stuff. And here we are as a junior."

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