For some reason, the PIAA Championships are always a shock to my system, like a jab to the nose that leaves you seeing stars.
Except the stars are wrestling on almost every mat at the Giant Center.
They're the studs of their hometowns, districts and regions, and they've been training to get to the state tournament their whole lives. Some started soon after they began to walk. North Star's three-time state champion Nick Roberts began wrestling when he was 3 years old.
Sometimes wrestlers with great ability don't place or don't even win a bout. Claysburg-Kimmel's James Dodson was undefeated going into Hershey, but he was caught in a bad position in his first bout and pinned. In his second bout, he was wrestling Curwensville's rugged Jake Keller, injured his collarbone/chest area at the end of the second period and was pinned in OT.
Including 5 champions, 30 of the District 6 and Southwest Regional wrestlers who qualified for states placed there - down a little from the 36 who placed last season
That's almost double the amount of placers from District 6 and the Northwest Regional in Class AAA. But there are way more Class AAA wrestlers in the east, which gives that area a competitive and depth advantage.
Often it comes down to where wrestlers are at the weight. Sometimes they're in a bracket loaded with returning state qualifiers and placers, and sometimes they're not. Dropping down early into the consolations becomes an experiment in toughness and patience, and if a wrestler really wants to place, they have to re-focus and re-adjust their goals.
In 2009, Northern Bedford's Tyler Chesney lost his first bout at 125 pounds, and he came all the way back through the consolations to finish third. That's five wins over three days. C-K's Ty Dively did something similar this year, wrestling four bouts on Friday and eventually finishing fifth at 138.
Wrestlers, though, have to be at the top of their games no matter where they are - in the championship bracket or in the consolation bracket. Any little mistake, decision, nerves or loss of focus for a brief second could cost them in the state tournament.
Tyrone's Dylan Weston was at the top of his game in Hershey, and he was rewarded with a semifinal berth and a sixth-place medal.
Sometimes, none of that matters because their opponents are just too good.
Take for instance Kennard Dale's two-time state champion Chance Marsteller. The kid is a monster. In the next two years, the only way somebody in Pennsylvania is going to beat him is with a baseball bat.
Marsteller rang up three technical falls to get to the finals - he had 22 of those this year - and pounded Central Mountain's returning state champ Brian Brill, 17-7. Nobody in District 6 or the Northwest Region has seen anybody do that to Brill. Maybe one of the Altons did in practice.
I can only imagine the number of college wrestling programs who are frothing at the mouth to land Marsteller as a prized recruit. Could you imagine Marsteller working out with Cael Sanderson in a few years? There would be very high expectations at Penn State, or anywhere he wrestled.
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at ToddIrwin1.