For Bedford's Ryan Easter, Claysburg-Kimmel's Josh Brown, Chestnut Ridge's Tyler Dibert and Moshannon Valley's James Stodart, stepping onto a mat at the Giant Center this morning for the PIAA Class AA Championships will give them mixed emotions.
They will feel like they're home again, but not everyting goes well at home.
For Easter, Brown and Dibert, this is their third time in the state tournament, and it's Stodart's second visit. They all want what Easter has already experienced twice, placing at a tournament with very deep weight classes filled with wrestlers good enough to make it to the ultimate destination of everybody like them.
They know what to expect. They know the pressure they'll be feeling. They know earning a medal at this tournament is a lot harder than some would think.
"I think experience should help a great deal," C-K coach Dave Marko said of Brown, who is 1-4 in two appearances. "Sometimes even the best wrestlers will wrestle all over the country, but when they step on that floor, they realize it's a whole new world. Even the strongest of stomachs will get queasy."
"The kids we're supposed to wrestle have all been there also," Bedford coach Brian Creps said of Easter's 120-pound weight class. "We feel confident he's ready to go, and he's been excited. He's been through the pressure cooker before, and he has a good idea of what he's going to run into."
What: PIAA Class AA Championships
Where: Giant Center in Hershey
Times: Thursday, Friday 9 a.m.; Saturday consolation finals, championship finals, 2 p.m.
What's at stake: Top eight at each weight earn medals
The tournament begins at 9 this morning. A win will assure of them of a berth in Friday's quarterfinals. A loss means they'll have to wrestle again at 12:15 p.m. and face an intimidating route through the consolations to get a medal.
The 11-wrestler area contingent - one of the smaller groups that's qualified from the rugged Southwest Regional - will be competing with the state's best, and seven of them are first-time state qualifiers who will find out about the pressure cooker.
That list includes Bedford's Tanner Williams (152) and Caleb Grimes (170), Chestnut Ridge's Dan Albright (195) and Austin Buttry (285), Huntingdon's Collin Glorioso (106), Mo Valley's Jake Ludwig (220) and Tussey Mountain's Mitchell Hall (285).
"We're excited," Ridge coach Greg Lazor said. "I think all three guys can have some success down there. I'd like us to bring home three medals."
For the Ridge wrestlers and coaches, this is their second trip to Hershey in a month after wrestling in the PIAA Duals, where the Lions finished fourth.
"It's a tough tournament," Lazor said. "The best wrestlers in the state are there, but we've seen tough competition through the year. It's a grind. Those who keep themselves in check are the most successful."
Dibert, a regional third-placer, has run into some buzzsaws at states, and the outcome has been an 0-4 record there. He opens with South Williamsport's Northeast runner-up Justin Knee (32-8). Brandywine Heights' returning state runner-up Pete Renda (38-0) is a possible opponent in the semifinals.
"He seems ready to go," Lazor said. "I like his setup in the bracket. "I think he'll be in competition to get a medal. We've all been in that facility wrestling. He knows what to expect. Hopefully, he can relay that knowledge to our other guys."
Williams and Grimes, who were third and fourth, respectively, in Johnstown, also have some experience at the Giant Center from the Bisons wrestling in the PIAA Duals in 2012 and 2011. In fact, it's where Williams suffered a compound fracture in the middle of his right hand in the semifinals against Boiling Springs. Guess that would be filed under bad experience.
"We were talking in the room today, and they kids are excited," Creps said. "Ryan has had a smile on his face all week. Tanner has wrestled a lot of really good kids, and this is his opportunity to get down there and show he belongs. He was at the caliber last year, and he wants to make the most of his opportunity.
"Caleb is pretty excited too. He has a chip on his shoulder because everybody things he doesn't belong there. He wants to show he's a pretty good wrestler and he defintely belongs there. I expect him to wrestle well."
Stodart, a Southwest third-placer who is tied with Ryan Jacoby atop the school's career win list with 117 wins, went 1-2 in last year's tournament, losing his preliminary bout, winning his consolation bout and then running into Saucon Valley's Ray O'Donnell, who beat him, 12-1, en route to a third-place finish.
O'Donnell is one of the favorites to win the 220-pound weight class, and he just happens to be Ludwig's first opponent. Ludwig, a regional fifth-placer this season, didn't wrestle in last year's tournament, but coach Justin Fye took him along so he would get used to the atmosphere.
"I think the guys are really excited," Fye said. "We've had two really good workouts, and they're excited to get on the mat. They didn't accomplish their goals at regionals. They thought they could have placed higher than what they did.
"For the kids, the approach is taking it match by match. It's the same thing we've been doing since the postseason started. You have to have a short-term memory. We as coaches will look at the brackets, but it's up to the guys to go out and wrestle."
One advantage the area kids have is they are the survivors from wrestling in the toughes Class AA regional in the state.
"We just went through a tournament that was just as tough," Fye said. "They're going to be battle tested win or lose. You have to be good to get to this point. We've talked about not getting too high or too low for these matches."