T.J. Brandt has accomplished just about everything he could ask of himself as a wrestler in his four stellar seasons at Altoona Area High School.
Brandt became Altoona's all-time winningest wrestler this past February, and boasts 123 career victories entering this weekend's PIAA Class AAA state tournament at Hershey's Giant Center.
Brandt became Altoona's first-ever four-time District 6-AAA champion this season, and he captured his second Northwest AAA Regional title last weekend.
Mirror file photo
T.J. Brandt will wrestle at states this weekend as an Altoona Mountain Lion.
The only thing missing from Brandt's trophy case is a placewinner's medal in the state tournament, and he stands a good chance of obtaining one at this weekend's event, which begins Thursday and wraps up Saturday.
In fact, Brandt stands a decent chance of winning the 138-pound state championship.
"It's my final year, and I have nothing to lose, and everything to gain,'' Brandt said. "Having been down there three times before is very important. I'm familiar with the atmosphere, and I know what I need to do to succeed.''
Brandt will have a large and friendly contingent of teammates accompanying him to Hershey this year. Seniors Mante Barnes (195) and Austin Rosenberry (285), along with sophomore D.J. Hollingshead (132) - all of whom qualified for states by finishing third in their weight classes at the Northwest AAA Regional - comprise Altoona's largest group of state wrestling qualifiers in recent or distant memory.
"These kids have worked real hard this year, and I'm happy for them,'' Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. "They've bought into our coaching system, and it paid off at the regional. Our guys came in with an attitude, and they wrestled hard.''
Hollidaysburg senior Matt Barton (285 pounds) and Philipsburg-Osceola senior Jay Prentice (170) will also represent this area at Class AAA states. Barton finished second in the regional and Prentice was third.
Both Rosenberry and Barnes saluted the coaching and preparation they received this season.
Rosenberry won four straight consolation matches at the regional to punch his ticket to states.
"If it wasn't for the coaching I got here, I don't think I'd have been able to do it,'' he said. "It's going to be a good time going to states with my teammates. We want to go down there and prove to the rest of the state what we can do.''
The right mental attitude will be important, especially for those making their first appearances at Hershey. The five other Class AAA state qualifiers accompanying Brandt are all in that boat.
"I hope I can succeed down there and hopefully place,'' Rosenberry said. "I know I have to take one match at a time. I can't be overconfident, and I also can't be stressed out about it.''
Barton, who will enter states with a 27-4 season record and a District 6-AAA championship under his belt, agrees.
"Everybody at states has placed high in their regional,'' he said. "I don't want to be overconfident. I don't consider myself as having any kind of an edge.''
Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore considers Barton's approach to be a suitable one.
"Matt has a really good demeanor,'' Moore said. "He got the opportunity to go down to the state tournament and watch it last year, and to get a feel for the atmosphere.''
That atmosphere can be daunting for a first-time qualifier.
"I'm excited to go,'' Prentice said after winning four straight consolation matches at the regional to qualify for states.
Barnes is hoping to place.
"I want to win two matches down there and get a medal,'' he said. "I think I'm capable of that.''
Hollingshead doesn't think he'll feel any pressure in his first appearance at states.
"I have nothing to lose,'' he said. "I just want to wrestle as hard as I can every match, and maybe catch a few people off-guard.''