SCHALMONT - The Lake George/Hadley-Luzerne War Eagles walked away from Saturday's Class CC Section II Tournament with heads held high, despite failing to crack the top three in the team standings.
For the fledgling program, which started just two years ago, finishing fourth overall with 148 points behind seasoned competitors Hudson Falls (213), Watervliet (194) and Ravena (178.5), was a clear moral victory the team can now build upon.
"The team lived up to the coaches' expectations," War Eagles co-coach Jack LaBombard said after the competition. "We knew we couldn't win the tournament - you can't beat Hudson Falls with just a two-year-old program - but we beat some very good teams. We were all satisfied."
Based upon their performances last Saturday, seven War Eagle wrestlers qualified for the Section II Finals, to be held this Friday and Saturday at the Glens Falls Civic Center: weight-class champion Zach Olson at 125 pounds; Jason Yard, runner-up at 189 pounds; Ryan Matuszak, third place at 96 pounds; Jack Clark, third at 285 pounds; Dan Jardine, fourth at 103 pounds; Joe Plante, fourth at 199 pounds; and Cecil Hayes, fourth at 130 pounds.
The red-hot Olson grappled with a No. 2-seeded opponent in the final round on Saturday, earning a win by pin, and wasn't alone in his efforts. Among other bright spots, LaBombard said that wrestler Jack Clark battled hard for his No. 3 finish, and even those War Eagles who came up on the losing end still fought valiantly, like Hayes, who suffered one of the team's multiple one-point defeats.
"We had a couple of heartbreaking losses," Labombard said.
Mourn not - LaBombard and Co. are already looking ahead to the finals this weekend, where the stakes grow still higher: winners and runners-up will compete Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 at the state tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany. While LaBombard admitted he'd be surprised to see the embryonic War Eagles make it all the way to Albany this year, the team's presence at the finals is a sure-fire sign of what's to materialize as the group continues to mature.
"We're not there yet, but we're sneaking up on them," LaBombard said, chuckling. "The other coaches, and the other schools, they know we're coming."