When the PIAA Class AA Championships start on Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey, Bedford's Ryan Easter will be vying for his fourth state medal.
It will be kind of hard to top the medal he got last season.
After placing fifth as a freshman and sixth as a sophomore, Easter reached the 120-pound finals and lost to Bethlehem Catholic monster Darian Cruz, 16-4.
That silver medal was coming off of his third runner-up finish at the Southwest Regional Tournament. Easter was expected to make the Southwest finals again, but he was upset by Burrell's John Andrejcik their quarterfinal bout that went to the tiebreaker. Easter bounced back to finish third, but that's not the momentum he was expecting to have entering his fourth state tournament.
"Last year, no one expected me to make it to the finals," Easter said. "Obviously this year people are probably thinking that too seeing that I got third here. I know that I can make it to the finals. I'm just going to go for it, pretty much."
Easter has compiled a 29-4 record this season at 132, with two of those losses coming at King of the Mountain, another coming to South Fayette's eventual regional champ Mike Carr in the Thomas Subaru Tournament finals and to Andrejcik.
n He is 29-4 with 10 pins as a senior.
n He's a four-time District 5 champion and a three-time state medalist.
n Bedford career wins leader with a 138-20 record.
He captured his fourth District 5 title, becoming only the fourth Bedford wrestler to do that (Eric Gibbons in 2002 was the last), but his 4-2 win over Myersdale's Tanner Hetrick in the finals might have raised some eyebrows for how close it was.
"Last week, it kind of got to me a little bit and got into my head and made me a little more nervous because of the milestone. I won, and that's all that matters."
Easter admits that the pressure of having that target on his back has been getting to him, and the regional loss might have adjusted his mental approach.
"It shows I can just come back through any tournament, really," Easter said. "It's kind of like a better feeling now. Now I know I have it in me that I can persevere and do anything because I could have felt sorry for myself, but I came back through and wrestled tough.
"It motivated me. I wasn't paying attention to the details of matches. I was kind of relaxing in my matches, like that first one. That goes back to districts too. I was putting too much pressure on myself than I need to, but now I've gotten into the brackets at states, and I can run the tournament, really."
"Any time you go to Walmart or anywhere in town, everybody is being polite and wishing you good luck and being supportive, but it builds up a lot of pressure on a young kid," Bedford coach Brian Creps said. "That loss kind of took some of the pressure off of him, and he just opened up a lot more and started wrestling."
After the loss to Andrejcik, Easter came back through the consolations with a 9-1 win over Moshannon Valley's Bryce Bloom, a 6-0 win over Avonworth's Darion Trimmer and survived a 3-2 tiebreaker win over Hetrick in the consy semis. He then won by injury default in 1:29 over Huntingdon's Devon Green, who injured his knee, in the third-place finals.
"You get second at states and everyone gave me their best match," he said. "It kind of helped me because I really haven't had many easy matches this year. This weekend really helped me because I had to wrestle five or six minutes every single match except for that last one."
Sometimes moving up a couple weights is hard for wrestlers to adjust to, but Creps says Easter, who has the most career wins at Bedford with 138, has adjusted to get ready for the postseason and for wrestling at Bloomsburg University.
"He moved up a weight class and gotten a lot taller," Creps said. "I think he's been wrestling pretty well. The change in weight class changed his style, and he's been working really hard in practice. He's trying to change his style more toward the college style since he's going to Bloomsburg, working more on our feet, tring to get into ties, and I think it's really paying off."
While he did visit North Carolina State, Easter said the choice to wrestle at Division I Bloomsburg was an easy one.
"When I got there, it was just awesome. It just felt like Bedford," Easter said. "Down in North Carolina, it was seven-and-a-half hours away, and that was a key thing too. And they said every class had like 200 people, and I wasn't a big fan of that. Plus, my parents can come down [to Bloomsburg] and watch me wrestle."
Before he goes to Bloomsburg, though, there's the matter of the state tournament. He opens with Conneaut Area's Kyle Lukowich (30-7), the Northwest Regional runner-up. A win would move him into the quarterfinals against either Hanover's 35-0 Ian Brown, who placed third at 132 last season, or Green. Andrejcik is in the same bracket, and Carr (40-) is in the other bracket.
"Even though he was third at regionals, nobody is going to overlook him, that's for sure," Creps said. "It's nice to get third because it usually gives you a little better draw than fourth. Now, he can go down to states and have some fun."
"You're there now. What is there to be nervous about?" Easter said. "You can just go out there and have fun every match. Plus, it's going to be my last tournament as a varsity wrestler at Bedford, so that's going to motivate me a little bit more to have a little bit more fun out there."