For 31 Centre County wrestlers, every waking moment of the past week has been spent analyzing past deficiencies, envisioning future triumphs and always, always being mindful of their diet.
With one exception.
Considering the Class AAA Northwest Regional Tournament and the Class AA Southwest Regional Tournament kick off today in Altoona and Johnstown, respectively, those 31 have been daydreaming about Hershey.
Don’t worry, dreams about the sweetest place on Earth don’t contain calories.
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Nine Bald Eagle Area Eagles, seven Philipsburg-Osceola Mounties, six Bellefonte Red Raiders, five Penns Valley Rams and four State College Little Lions face one final hurdle to the sport’s ultimate prize — a trip March 7-9 to the PIAA Championships at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Unlike the district championships, there are no more seeds, just matchups of district placewinners.
“I’m not much of a bracket watcher. I looked at them and know who we wrestle. Most of the guys we already know. It’s a different story when it comes to regionals,” Philipsburg-Osceola coach Tim McCamley said.
Penns Valley coach Joel Brinker agreed that the regional environment is a different scene.
“We’ve all wrestled tough matches this year. A lot of guys have shown up to regionals and never been here. It’s who wants it most and who's willing to work the hardest for six minutes. Everybody’s 0-0. The seeds are out the window,” he said.
Those who have been to regionals, the coaches said, know how the intensity ratchets up. For those who haven’t? Bald Eagle Area coach Steve Millward said it best.
“For the ones that haven’t been there yet, things are going to happen pretty fast. Hopefully they have a quick learning curve. It’s not last week’s tournament. It comes down to what effort are you willing to put out there,” he said.
Each of the county’s five teams took a slightly different approach to training this week.
For Penns Valley, which has had two weeks off since districts, there was time for light workouts, tapering and scouting. For the four Class AAA schools, the week entailed on- and off-the-mat workouts.
“Monday was a short day, get in, get a sweat going and get out,” State College coach Chad Dubin said. “Tuesday and Wednesday we had good practices. We got to work out with Bellefonte. It was good to get different partners, a different feel and a different room. We tried to have a little bit of fun, sharpen our skills and fix some minor things.”
In Philipsburg, the Mounties used a mix of wrestling and conditioning to stay fresh and stay sharp.
“There’s a fine line between over- and under-working. You don’t need that much head-to-head competition or live wrestling, but you still have to keep them sharp, competition-ready,” McCamley said.
“(Tuesday) we did conditioning in the fitness center. We stayed out of the wrestling room.”
For Mike Maney’s Raiders, the week was about focus and situational awareness.
“We tried to really stress situations, particularly ones that will present themselves this weekend when the matches are a little tighter. We talked about staying focused and not letting distractions affect you,” Maney said. “We went over scouting reports and did a lot of fine tuning, working on weaknesses.”
At Wingate, the Eagles maintained the status quo for the most part.
“We kept things pretty consistent. We go in, warm up, do something fun if the guys want to, drill and wrestle. Nothing really changed,” Millward said. “We didn’t go as long, of course. We’re not going to change what the kids are doing right now. They have their own character and their own style.”
The Class AAA Northwest Regional brackets feature wrestlers from five districts: four from District 6, two from District 8, four from the combined 4/9 district and four from District 10. Only three advance to states.
Despite the influx of talent from four other districts, Maney seemed to think his Raiders, like most of the teams, have faced competition equal to or better than what they’ll see this weekend.
“We talked to the guys about the higher level tournaments we competed in," Maney said. "At the Powerade, the brackets they competed in are tougher than regionals. We’ve seen high level competition and high-intensity matches.”
Dubin said he thinks returning to Altoona is an advantage for his Little Lions and the rest of the District 6 wrestlers.
“That’s helpful. It’s the same routine. It’s a familiar, repetitive type of thing. You get more confident the more you do it,” he said.
The Class AA Southwest Regional brings wrestlers from Districts 5, 6 and 7. The top 5 placers in each weight advance to the state tournament, the goal for each of the 31 county wrestlers.
“I get the sense that these kids have goals, they’re not happy just to get to regionals,” Brinker said. “This group wants more than what they’re getting. I know they’ll give it their all. They’ve been chomping at the bit. We’ll see where they are.”