Setting foot on a wrestling mat for PIAA state tournament competition at Hershey's Giant Center can be a daunting and intimidating experience.
For Altoona Area High School junior T.J. Brandt, however, it has become somewhat of a customary, run-of-the-mill experience.
Brandt - a District 6-AAA and Northwest AAA Regional champion this year at 126 pounds - will be making his third straight appearance in the Class AAA state tournament, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.
Brandt (29-3 this year) is one of three area wrestlers to qualify for Class AAA states. He'll be joined at Hershey by Hollidaysburg sophomore Damian Huff (106 pounds) and Philipsburg-Osceola senior Logan Walstrom (145).
Brandt made his first visit to Hershey two years ago at 103 pounds and won a match there during his second visit last year at 112.
The top eight finishers in each weight class at the state tournament earn placewinner's medals.
When: Thursday through Saturday.
Where: Giant Center, Hershey.
Area qualifiers: Damian Huff, Hollidaysburg (106); T.J. Brandt, Altoona (126); Logan Walstrom, Philipsburg-Osceola (145).
At stake: The top eight finishers in each weight class earn placewinner's medals.
"Experience is always a huge deal down there,'' Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. "You don't want to go down there and be shellshocked, and I'm sure T.J. won't be. Last year, he came within one victory of medaling.
"This year, our goal is to place,'' Gilbert added. "He's never been on the [medals] podium, and I believe he can do it.''
One thing is for sure - Brandt won't be humbled by the atmosphere of the Giant Center.
"It's an arena just like any other arena, but on a larger scale,'' said Brandt, who became a three-time District 6 champion this year. "I think that having the experience I've had down there will set me up to do a lot better than I have in the past. I won a match last year. Now, I just have to get to work on getting to the podium.''
P-O's Walstrom will be making his second visit to states, while Hollidaysburg's Huff will be making his first.
Walstrom has a gaudy 41-3 record this season and also figures to benefit from the experience of having been to states a year ago, when he did not place at 152.
"Last year, I got nervous,'' he said. "It's just an incredible atmosphere. This year, I know what it's like being down there. I'm just going to let it all hang out and put pressure on my opponents.''
P-O coach Tim McCamley thinks that Walstrom will manage things well this weekend.
"It's not going to be new to him,'' McCamley said. "The nerves will be there, but he's going to be a lot more comfortable. He should be able to handle things a lot easier.''
Which, in turn, should enable Walstrom to refocus his goals for the event.
"He's not going to be happy with just being there this year,'' McCamley said. "We want to be on the podium.''
So does Hollidaysburg's Huff, who, like Walstrom, registered a gutsy performance in the regional wrestlebacks to take third place in his weight class.
"I'm hoping to place,'' said Huff, who has compiled a 26-8 record this season. "I'm glad I made it down there, and I'm going to give it my all.''
Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore believes that Huff has what it takes to medal at states.
"I think Damian has placewinner type of talent,'' Moore said. "If he goes down there and believes in himself, and throws it all out there, I think he can place.''