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Manheim Central wrestling state champ Will Betancourt is LNP Male Athlete of the Year

Barons' standout capped career with league, district and PIAA titles this past season

Will Betancourt climbed to the very top of Pennsylvania’s wrestling pinnacle this past season, striking gold in the 120-pound weight class to cement his legacy in Manheim Central’s program and Lancaster-Lebanon League mat circles.

Incredibly, it almost didn’t happen.

Just a week before the L-L League finals, at the start of the busy postseason run, Betancourt went under the knife, getting his left knee scoped for a meniscus repair.

“It was pretty scary,” he said. “I had wrestled the whole season up to that point with my knee locked up. I was in pain pretty much the whole season, and I wasn’t sure how I’d do. I wasn’t sure if my knee would be healed up for the postseason.”

“I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Central wrestling coach Billy Chamberlain admitted. “But three days later he had no issues, and he was riding bike as part of his rehab. He showed true grit and determination.”

Back and better than ever, Betancourt went on to secure his fourth straight league and fourth straight District Three titles, and he capped his comeback in fine fashion, capturing the state championship on the big stage in Hershey’s Giant Center.

For his efforts on the mat — winning every postseason gold medal in sight, including the coveted PIAA crown — and for overcoming a late-season injury that could have derailed the whole ride, Betancourt is the 2019-20 LNP | LancasterOnline and Lancaster County Sports Hall of Fame Male Athlete of the Year.

“Will never cut corners,” Chamberlain said. “No challenge was too great for him. He had the mentality of, 'This is what I have to do, and this is what I’m going to do, because I’m going to be a state champ.' ”

Betancourt had a simply stellar senior season:

After the knee rehab, he became the fifth wrestler in L-L history to win four league titles, after he topped Lampeter-Strasburg’s Arik Harnish 10-3 in the 126-pound finale.

Betancourt was named the D. Kenneth Ober Outstanding Wrestler of the Tournament, and he joined Central’s Mike Bires, Solanco’s Thomas Haines, Manheim Township’s Cortland Schuyler, and Archie McConnell, who won titles for Hempfield and Solanco, as the only four-time L-L League winners.

After earning a 16-0 tech-fall win over Cumberland Valley’s Ruslon Dzielak in the District Three Class 3A Southcentral gold-medal match, Betancourt became just the fifth four-time regional champ, and only the 17th wrestler overall to win four district championships in the 82 years of the tournament. He won titles at 106, 113 and a pair at 120.

And in the grand finale — the PIAA Class 3A 120-pound state-title bout against Seneca Valley’s Dylan Chappell — Betancourt earned a 4-2 victory to cap his incredible season, and career. He became the ninth wrestler from Central to win a state crown, and he’s the 24th wrestler from Lancaster County to win a state title.

“Thursday through Saturday at states, I was laser-beam focused,” Betancourt said. “Everything my coach told me to do, I did. When I stepped into the Giant Center, it was all business. When I finally stepped up on the podium on that No. 1 spot, it started sinking in.”

Betancourt had to survive a hotly contested semifinal match just to advance to the state-title bout; he scored a reversal with just five seconds left to rally past Nazareth’s Andrew Smith by a 5-4 count.

“Insane,” Betancourt said. “The whole arena erupted. It was crazy.”

Betancourt, who earned a scholarship to wrestle for Lock Haven University, had even more motivation in states: The week before the tourney, his uncle, Louie Ortiz, died.

“We were really close,” Betancourt said. “He came to all of my tournaments, so that was hard. I did it for him.”

Betancourt exited Central's storied program as its career leader in victories, and he was never pinned and he never suffered a tech-fall defeat while wearing the maroon singlet of the Barons.

“My whole mentality for my senior season was different than any other year,” said Betancourt, whose dad, Will Betancourt Sr., is the executive director of Lancaster Alliance Wrestling.

“There was no doubt in my mind that I was winning states this year. I believed every single time I stepped out on the mat that I was better than every kid I was wrestling, and that I was going to win. I had a lot more confidence this year, and I kept positive and super focused. I was going to be heartbroken if I didn’t win states, so I didn’t want to let myself down, and I didn’t want to let a lot of other people down either.”

Here’s another amazing nugget about Betancourt’s journey to the state title: He started the season weighing in at 148 pounds, but once the district tournament started, he had the willpower to cut his weight down to 120. That meant plenty of egg whites, grilled chicken, fruit and water to go along with a beefed-up workout routine.

“It takes a lot of mental strength to do that, so he’s the toughest old-school kid you’ll ever meet,” said Chamberlain, who won a PIAA title as a 119-pounder for Cumberland Valley in 2006. “He’s like a mini-hulk. He’s physical and he never stops, and he’ll continually put the pressure on you. He knows how to break people, and that’s a big thing in wrestling.”

In these parts, nothing in wrestling is bigger than winning a state championship. Will Betancourt was able to add that to his already overflowing resume this past season, putting him in the pantheon of top wrestlers to ever come out of the L-L League.

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77