Altoona's T.J. Brandt and Hollidaysburg's Damian Lascoli both made their first appearances in the PIAA, Class AAA state wrestling tournament last March.
It was a learning experience for both. Brandt, now a sophomore, and Lascoli, now a senior, both lost two straight matches at states a year ago.
Both Brandt and Lascoli hope to benefit from last year's adversity when they take the mat in the opening round of the state tournament Thursday afternoon at Hershey's Giant Center. Brandt, a 112-pounder, and Lascoli, a 160-pounder, will join Philipsburg-Osceola junior 145-pounder Logan Walstrom as the Mirror's only representatives in this year's Class AAA state tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday.
Brandt dropped two matches at 103 pounds in last year's state tournament, while Lascoli lost two at 152.
"The first time down there is a real eye-opener,'' Brandt said of the atmosphere at the Giant Center. "But I know I can go down there and perform.''
Both Brandt and Lascoli were runners-up in last weekend's Northwest AAA Regional Tournament at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse, while Walstrom punched his ticket to Hershey by taking third place in the regional.
PIAA Class AAA tournament
When: Thursday through Saturday
Where: Hershey's Giant Center
Area qualifiers: T.J. Brandt, Altoona (112 pounds); Logan Walstrom, Philipsburg-Osceola (145); Damian Lascoli, Hollidaysburg (160)
At stake: The top eight finishers in each weight class will earn state placewinner's medals
Times: Thursday - Preliminary round, 4 p.m.; First-round consolations, 7:15 p.m. Friday - Quarterfinals, 1 p.m.; Second-round consolations, 2:45 p.m. Saturday - Semifinals and third-round consolations, 8 a.m.; Fourth-round consolations, 10:30 a.m.; Third, fifth and seventh-place matches, 6 p.m.; Championship finals, 8 p.m.
Brandt (31-4 this season) draws Franklin Regional freshman Tyler Smith (37-9), a Southwest AAA Regional runner-up, in Thursday's opening round.
Brandt - who dropped a 7-6 decision to Brashear junior Godwin Nyama in last week's regional championship bout - isn't taking anything for granted entering this year's state tournament.
"Having had the opportunity to go down there and compete in the past helps a lot,'' said Brandt, a two-time District 6-AAA champion. "I just want to go down there this year and represent myself well.''
Altoona coach Joel Gilbert is confident that Brandt will do just that.
"I'm setting the bar high,'' Gilbert said. "I expect him to place in the top eight in his weight class. He's capable of doing it, and I think his experience there last year will be very beneficial. He won't be awed by the size of the facility and all the good wrestlers there.''
Neither will Lascoli (29-9), who draws Southeast Regional runner-up Nick Russell, a Neshaminy senior, in the opening round.
"I should win a few matches this year,'' Lascoli said. "Since I was there last year, I had a good look at what goes on, and I won't be as nervous as I was last year.''
Lascoli won a big-time match in last Saturday's Northwest AAA Regional semifinals, scoring a buzzer-beating takedown to defeat Meadville senior Zack Towers, 5-4. Towers, like Lascoli, is a two-time state tournament qualifier.
"To place in the top eight is my goal this year,'' Lascoli said of this year's trip to states. "I think I can do it if I wrestle like I did in the [regional] semifinal match.''
Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore expects Lascoli to earn a state medal, but Moore knows Lascoli must improve upon his performance in the regional championship match, where he was shut down, 6-2 by Bellefonte senior Brad Grieb.
"I'm looking for him to definitely be on the [medals] podium,'' Moore said of Lascoli. "He's going to feel more comfortable down there this year, but you have to wrestle tough in all positions to give yourself a chance. He's got to defend his opponent's shots better than he did [against Grieb].''
Walstrom (31-12) will take on Norristown senior Brandon Parker, a Southeast Regional champ who has won 53 matches this year, in the opening round.
"We're going to try to get on the podium,'' Philipsburg-Osceola coach Tim McCamley said of Walstrom. "He doesn't have the greatest draw because of his third-place regional finish, but he can hold his own against anybody. He's worked hard enough to get here. I'm happy that he's getting the opportunity.''
So is Walstrom.
"I know I'll be nervous in my first match, but I don't think I'll be intimidated,'' Walstrom said. "This is going to be a good experience for me. I just want to go down there and medal.''