On the surface, the path Northeastern senior Anthony Leese has taken to next week's District 3-AAA individual wrestling tournament sounds similar to most.
In his first full season as a starter in 2011-12 at 215 pounds, Leese went 1-2 at the sectional tournament and finished with an 11-12 overall record. The next year, he was one-and-done at sectionals, improving his overall record by one win (12-12).
A one-sport athlete who has been wrestling since the seventh grade, Leese's goal his senior year was just to make it to districts. So he hit the mat hard. The 285-pounder wrestled over the summer. His coach, Mike Muraco, says Leese is always the first Bobcat grappler on the mat before every match. He's a leader in the practice room. These are things we've all heard before about accomplished high school student-athletes.
What set Leese apart from them, however, was his performance Saturday in the Section V Class AAA wrestling tournament, where he entered as the No. 4 seed in a field of a dozen heavyweights. His opponent in the opening round, Dover's Cameron Beckman, had beaten Leese earlier in the season. So, too, did top-seeded Brock Hartman of New Oxford. Leese would've been happy with a third-place finish to qualify for districts. Except he did much more. The third-year starter knocked off Beckman in the opening round, 5-2, to advance to the semifinals to face Hartman, who entered Saturday with a 22-8 record and was looking to return to districts for the second year in a row. Hartman, a sophomore, also outweighed Leese by about 30 pounds.
"He was down, 5-2, after the first period," Muraco said of Leese, "From then on the match was close. It was kind of back-and-forth. Each guy had an opportunity to win the match in different points."
Finally, with less than a minute to go in the third period, Leese caught Hartman and put him on his back for the pin at the 5:13 mark.
"I would say he's in better shape than most heavyweights," Muraco said. "That's where it comes to his advantage in that weight class. He's able to power through. He doesn't get tired easily. He stays in the match at the beginning and stays in it until the end."
Leese topped off Saturday by beating Spring Grove senior C.J. Sterner in the championship match. Not bad for a kid who works three days a week making pizzas at Papa John's — he couldn't be reached by phone Sunday because he was working.
"He'll leave practice at 5 p.m. and go straight to work. He works two or three days a week, plus weekends if we're not wrestling," Muraco said. "That's the thing, not a lot of kids work during the season, let alone as many hours as he does. He's just a hard worker."
Leese, now 20-11, will join teammate Darrion Latimore, who was the 160-pound runner-up at sectionals Saturday, in Hershey next weekend.
Sectional recap: Spring Grove again prevailed in Saturday's sectional tournament, tallying 175 points to win its seventh-straight team title. Of all York-Adams League teams, the Rockets are sending the most grapplers (10) to the District 3-AAA individual tournament. That's followed by South Western (eight) and New Oxford (five). Dover, Kennard-Dale and Dallastown each have four district qualifiers. Northeastern, Susquehannock and West York each have two wrestlers going to districts. And Central York, Eastern York, Red Lion and York Suburban each have one district qualifier.
Next week's District 3 Class AAA and Class AA individual wrestling tournaments will be held Friday and Saturday at Hersheypark Arena, with preliminary and quarterfinal bouts held Friday, followed by semifinal and championship bouts Saturday.
— Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.