When he came down off the District 6 Class AAA medals stand wearing a silver medal around his neck Saturday night at the Altoona Fieldhouse, Hollidaysburg's Larret Miller was smiling.
Some wrestlers who lose in the finals aren't very happy. Some are steaming angry.
But, Miller has plenty to be happy about. He's gone from 9-18 his sophomore year to 25-15 and a fourth-place finish at 171 at districts last season to a 25-3 mark and a district finals appearance this season as the top-ranked 182-pounder in the Mirror rankings.
"I think I've improved tremendously," Miller said. "I worked out a lot this summer, and I'm very focused this year. Last year, I was kind of iffy. This year, I've set all my goals and I'm ready to go for them."
What really made his district tournament even more special was beating Central Mountain's second-seeded Blaze Buckwalter, 7-1, in the semifinals. It was the first time he had beaten Buckwalter, who beat Miller, 4-2 in overtime, in the third-place finals last year. Afterward, he was high-fiving friends and getting hugs in the Hollidaysburg section.
"It was so emotional. It was so surreal," Miller said. "It took awhile for it to sink in, but I had to sit down. The emotions were going. I was ready for the finals then."
Oddly enough, Miller will wrestle Buckwalter, who finished fourth, in the first round of the Northwest Regional Friday.
Miller admitted he was a bit intimidated wrestling Westmont Hilltop's Ryan Burnheimer, who earned a 5-1 decision to claim his third district title, including two at the Class AAA level. Burnheimer won a Northwest Regional title and finished sixth at the PIAA Championships at 189 last season.
"Going up against a kid that took sixth at states last year, you can't let that get in your head," Miller said, "because then you're done for that match. You've just got to stay focused, and I think that's what has really made me improve this year. That and work ethic."
Districts should combine
I don't think there are any plans to do it, and it's just my opinion, but I think District 6 and 9 should combine for a district tournament in Class AAA.
With Lewistown and Indian Valley merging to become Mifflin County this year, the District 6 Tournament was down to 10 teams. Next year, it will be down to nine with the departure of Westmont Hilltop, which is going back to Class AA.
There are only five teams in the District 9 Tournament, and it still qualifies three to the Northwest Regional, which has irked District 6 fans and coaches for a long time.
I know some of the coaches don't want to give up their district identity, which is understandable, but it seems unfair that three qualify when sometimes there's only three at the weight.
One qualifier enters the regional tournament with a 2-19 record.
Adding DuBois, Clearfield, St. Marys and Punxsutawney (Bradford would seem to be a better fit for District 10) would certainly add to the depth of the tournament and fill the Fieldhouse stands - if that tournament would continue to be in Altoona. Attendance appeared to be down this season.
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at ToddIrwin1.