Through two District 6 Class AAA Tournaments, Altoona junior T.J. Brandt has used the Altoona Fieldhouse as his personal stomping ground, with stomping as the operative word.
A two-time district champion, Brandt has compiled a 5-0 record in those tournaments with three pins, a technical fall and a major decision.
After winning at 103 as a freshman and 112 as a sophomore, Brandt enters this year's tournament at 126 holding the top seed with a 23-3 record.
"If T.J. Brandt wrestles the way he's supposed to, there should be no reason why he shouldn't get his third championship," Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. "As long as he goes out, is aggressive and wrestles hard, I think he'll be fine."
Gilbert has shifted Brandt up in weight throughout the season, going as high as 138, to get the best competition.
"There's no better way to simulate the state tournament, the district tournament and the regional tournament than wrestling the best competition around the area," Gilbert said.
District 6 AAA Tournament
When: Today, 5:30 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m.
Where: Altoona Fieldhouse
What's at stake: Top four at each weight advance to Northwest Regional Tournament
Going for six: Central Mountain has won five straight District 6 team titles.
For Altoona, Hollidaysburg, Philipsburg-Osceola and the rest of the 10-team field, the tournament begins at 5:30 p.m. today. The preliminaries, quarterfinals and a consolation round will be wrestled on the first day. Wrestling resumes at 11 a.m. Saturday with the semifinals. The third and fifth-place consolation finals are scheduled for 5 p.m., and the championship finals will follow at 7.
The top four at every weight class advance to the Northwest Regional Tournament next week at the Fieldhouse.
If P-O's seeds hold true, it will have a large contingent returning to Altoona next week for the Northwest Regional Tournament. The Mounties have two No. 1 seeds in Logan Walstrom (35-1) at 145 and Jared Smith (30-4) at 152 and 10 wrestlers seeded in the top four, which ties Central Mountain in that category. Central Mountain has won five straight district team titles and appears to be the favorite again.
Among those P-O other wrestlers are returning fourth-placer Bryan Descavish (113), fifth-placers Brian Evans (120) and Andrew Greenawalt (138) and sixth-placer Smith.
"I think they're excited," P-O coach Tim McCamley said. "They've shifted gears from the team concept. Now it's all about them, and we'll see what happens. They have to bring their best game, that's for sure."
Walstrom is a two-time district runner-up at 145, losing to Central Mountain state champions Andrew Alton and Brian Brill. But, there are no state champs at his weight this season, and he is the No. 1 seed. "He's hoping it's his turn," McCamley said, "but he has to show up. He knows what it takes, and let's just hope he's ready."
Smith moved up to 152 when Walstrom dropped, but it hasn't prevented him from continuing to win.
"He's actually more comfortable up a weight," McCamley said. "He's had a very good season. He's had some really legit wins, and he wants to be a force, and I think he can be."
The Golden Tigers are small in numbers, but the trio of returning third-placer Damian Huff (20-5) at 106, returning fourth-placer Laret Miller (23-2) and fifth-placer Matt Barton (22-2) will push for a finals berth. Huff is seeded second, while Miller and Barton are third.
"The 106-pound weight class is a tough weight class," Tigers coach Mike Moore said. "He's going to have a tough semifinal match Saturday morning, so he's going to have to be ready to go.
"It's been a long season for us in terms of team success, and here at the end of the year, we can focus on individuals. The kids are excited that they can go out and represent their school as individuals."
Altoona also has two second seeds in freshman star D.J. Hollingshead (30-2) at 120 and returning fourth-placer Mante Barnes (21-5) at 195. Hollingshead is seeded behind Bellefonte's two-time district champion Tom Traxler, who beaten by Westmont Hilltop's Josh Polacek, 6-4, in the finals last season.
"We'll take it one match at a time," Gilbert said. "Hopefully, we get to the finals. Tom Traxler is a three-time state placefinisher and two-time regional champion, and when you're wrestling an individual with those kinds of accolades, you have to attack him at all times and find some weak spots that he does out there."
Altoona also has a returning medalist in sixth-placer Markief Knode (fourth-seeded at 160).
"I feel confident," Gilbert said. "I think our guys have worked really hard coming into this season and coming into the postseason right now. We're getting to peak right now, and I'm real happy with where we're seeded. You've got to beat them all to win."