This past weekend, six Andover wrestlers, Co-Captain Ryan Gaiss ’11, Co-Captain Colton Dempsey ’12, Will Park ’11, Robert Palmer ’11, Sven Lerner ’13 and Christian Vallis ’14 traveled down to Lehigh University (PA) to compete in the 79th annual National Prep School Wrestling Tournament. The event was highlighted by three individual place winners as Big Blue racked up 38 points, allowing for a 21st place finish out of a competitive 120 team field. Gaiss, Dempsey and Vallis all finished in the top eight, earning them All-American honors. This year marked only the second time in Andover history that Big Blue Wrestling has had three individual place winners, last occurring in 2008. Gaiss, a four-year wrestler, finished his impressive wrestling career with a fourth place finish. Eighth at Nationals a year ago, Gaiss became only the third wrestler in Andover history to place twice at National Prep. “After coming off a decent tournament last year, I set a goal for a top six finish from the beginning of the season. Nationals was always my ultimate goal,” Gaiss said of his expectations. In the tournament Gaiss went 5-2 overall, making it to the quarterfinals before losing to a very tough #3 seed. He said about the match, “I had watched him prior to the match and noticed we both were good in neutral. I went into the match looking to get a quick shot in order to get the first points. Unfortunately, I took a sloppy shot and he capitalized.” With his five wins at Nationals, Gaiss finished the season with a record of 29-2, ending his career with a 104-22 record. He became only the second wrestler in school history to reach 100 wins, and finished only four behind the all time record of 108. Dempsey, a three year veteran, went into Nationals undefeated in competitions on the season. Dempsey said about his expectations, “I felt more confident going into the tournament because of the hard work I had put in this season with Ryan and all the other wrestlers.” Dempsey won a close first round match 8-6, and then crushed his opponent in the next round to make it to the quarterfinals. Dempsey also exceeded his #7 seed, winning five matches to earn fifth place. Dempsey said, “It felt great to finish 5th. My goal this year was top five, which I felt was a realistic goal. I’m satisfied because I know that I wrestled my very best and to my top ability.” Vallis, seeded #13, exceeded his seed placing eighth in tournament with a 4-3 record. “I have been to national tournaments before but high school wrestling is a whole different thing. I was a little intimidated but after I got my first round win I relaxed because I felt like I belonged there.” Vallis crushed his opening round opponent 14-3, but then lost a tough match to the #4 seed. He stormed back, winning three straight matches including an intense 2-1 victory over a tough rival. “Mendenhall is a very good wrestler. After my bloody nose I was up 2-1 in the match with about a minute to go. It was a very tense moment in the match because I had to finish the match without giving up any points,” said Vallis. Following his wins, he lost a tough match for seventh place, 9-7. “The kid I wrestled was seeded higher than me, so I went out in a win or lose situation. If a few more things had gone my way it might have been different, but I was still satisfied with my finish,” said Vallis. Placing eighth, Vallis became the first Andover wrestler in history to place at National Prep as a freshman. His 26 wins is the second most ever for a freshman, behind Dempsey’s 28 in the 2008-09 season. Newly-elected Captains Dempsey and Sneider look to lead a strong group of returners next year. The team will rely on its five returning New England place finishers to lead the team, but the importance of developing younger wrestlers can not be overlooked. “The difference between a good team and a great team is being able to put out fourteen solid wrestlers at every weight. Next year, we have the core that we will always be able to rely on, but some of the experienced JV’s, who will see time in the lineup next year, need to work in the off season” said Dempsey.