Some of the qualifiers - like Altoona 112-pounder T.J. Brandt - got to the Northwest Regional Class AAA Tournament with ease. Some of them got here with difficulty.
However they got here, the qualifiers for the regional tournament are a little closer to getting to the PIAA Championships in Hershey. Coaches and wrestlers point to this time of the year as they're sweating, cutting weight and drilling during the regular season.
"To know we're one step away from Hershey and get a chance to wrestle in that type of atmosphere is incredible," Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore said. "It's like Christmas time for me. It's the most exciting part of the year."
"This is why these guys train all year long," Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. "We're hoping they take advantage of the opportunity. It's an exciting time."
For the 11 area wrestlers and everybody else in the tournament, the excitement begins on the mats at 5 p.m. today at the Altoona Fieldhouse. A quarterfinal round will follow at about 7:15, and a consolation round will wrap up the first day.
The action resumes at noon Saturday with the semifinals and second round of consolations. The consolation finals are set for 5:30 p.m., and the championship finals will follow at about 6:30.
Where: Altoona Fieldhouse
Starts: Today, 5 p.m. Saturday, noon
Medal rounds: Third-place bouts, 5:30 p.m. Saturday; Finals, 6:30 p.m.
What's at stake: Top three at each weight advance to the PIAA Championships.
The wrestlers will be battling through 12-man brackets made up of the top four from District 6, the top three from District 10, the top three from District 9 and the top two from District 8.
While Central Mountain, Cathedral Prep, Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte and Clearfield will be jockeying for a team title, the goal is to place in the top three at each weight in order to advance to the state tournament.
Altoona ended the district tournament with five regional qualifiers, but that number dropped to four early in the week when 135-pound district runner-up Wendell Myers was withdrawn from the tournament for what Gilbert called "disciplinary reasons."
Still, Gilbert is looking forward to seeing what Brandt and district fourth-placers Jake Hines (140), Mante Barnes (189) and Braeden Luciano (285) can do. Hines is making his third appearance at the tournament, while Brandt and Luciano are back for the second time.
"We have four guys looking to get in the top three," he said. "Some of them have tough draws. We'll see what kind of character we have. T.J. has the best chance to get [to Hershey]."
Brandt is a returning regional runner-up who lost to Clearfield's Christian Stone, 4-2, in the 103-pound finals last season. There's a good chance Stone and Brandt will meet again in the finals.
"T.J. will try his best to beat Stone," Gilbert said. "I think it will be won and lost on their feet. They have similar styles."
The other area returning state qualifier is Hollidaysburg's 160-pound district runner-up Damian Lascoli, who placed third at the regional last season after taking third at districts.
Lascoli, who will be joined by district third-placer Damian Huff (103) and fourth-placer Larett Miller (171), wrestles DuBois' Mike Kennelly (7-6) for the chance to get Perry's Mike Banks (14-10). A semifinal bout with Meadville's returning regional runner-up Zach Towers or Bald Eagle Area's Coleman Hoffman is likely.
"We're expecting him to get to the semifinals," Moore said. "We expect either [to wrestle] Towers or Hoffman for a big match in the semis. He knows he can get it done in big-match situations. His experience is very important."
Philipsburg-Osceola is sending four to the Fieldhouse in district runner-up Logan Walstrom (145), third-placer Kenny Myers (135), who moved up a place with the departure of Wendell Myers, and fourth-placers Bryan Descavish (103) and Luke Greenawalt (152). Walstrom is making his second trip to the tournament.
"We've been working hard, and the kids are excited about it," P-O coach Tim McCamley said. "We've had a good week of practice. This is probably everybody's individual goal. I know a lot of them would like to make that next step.
"Walstrom likes where he is in the bracket. He has to take it one match at a time. His goals are set pretty high now, and he's been working real hard in practice."
While some warn about getting too worked up for the tournament, Moore says a little emotion is good.
"If you're not amped up, there's something not right," he said. "It's the biggest step in the tournament trail so far. You have to go in having the confidence in what you can do. You have to believe in your stuff."
Notes: In addition to Stone, Central Mountain's Brian Brill and Zach Corl, Bellefonte's Tom Traxler and Bradford's Mark Havers are returning champions. Cathedral Prep's Tyler Parsons won in 2009. ... Missing from the field is McDowell's 130-pound state champ Steve Spearman, who didn't make weight for the District 10 Tournament.