Hughesville held wrestling practice Sunday afternoon, an oddity for the team. Usually it's the one day a week head coach Steve Budman gives the Spartans to recover.
This week is different. There's no time to recover, only time to prepare.
The Spartans have a quick turnaround from the grind of three tough matches in the District 4 Duals on Saturday to prepare for their PIAA preliminary round match tonight against District 11 runner-up Saucon Valley. The match starts at 6 p.m. at Whitehall High School.
"It's Super Bowl Sunday and nobody wants to do that, but I think we have enough gas in the tank," Hughesville senior Kyle Barnes said. "One more win and these kids get to see something as freshmen I dreamed about."
Barnes has spent the last few days trying to impart on his teammates how thrilling and amazing the atmosphere is when getting to wrestle at the Giant Center in Hershey. Those words he's imparted on a team routinely putting six freshmen or sophomores into the lineup helped Hughesville finish third in the District 4 Duals this past weekend to earn the district's final qualifying spot in the state tournament.
Hughesville still has one more step to take before earning the school's first trip to Hershey for the state team tournament. Tonight's match with Saucon Valley is a do-or-die match. The winner starts over with a clean slate in Hershey on Thursday.
"I tried to express the feeling you get when you get in that arena in Hershey," Barnes said. "It's just overwhelming and I'm trying to put it through their heads. I'm excited to see what happens."
Budman said after Hughesville's win over Muncy to claim third place in the district he wasn't sure how well his team would be able to bounce back on such a short turnaround. He said he'd have a better feel after practice Sunday how they were feeling.
But he couldn't help but point out to his wrestlers that having to face this quick turnaround is a good thing.
"Bottom line is this is what happens. When you get better, you're going to wrestle more," Budman said. "If you don't understand that concept then you're probably in the wrong sport or you have the wrong goals. The good wrestlers are going to wrestle until March. Here we are in the state team tournament and the reason we're wrestling (today) is we're pretty good."
This wasn't a scenario Budman thought was possible when the season started out. Since returning to coach at Hughesville three years ago, he's progressively gotten more wrestlers out for the team to where he figured he wouldn't be forfeiting any more weights.
Coming off a season where the Spartans advanced to the quarterfinals of the District 4 tournament, Budman was shocked this year when he didn't get some wrestlers out for the team he had expected to. At the start of the season Hughesville was forfeiting two and three weights.
Hughesville went 1-4 at the early-season Blue Mountain Duals - prior to picking up an extra win when Blue Mountain had to forfeit the match for using a wrestler at an ineligible weight. The Spartans have been able to make up for the missing weights by utilizing some of its best wrestlers from 145 to 182 pounds.
Junior Robert White is 25-6 this year and is ranked 20th in the state at 170 pounds despite having wrestled 21 of his matches at 182 pounds. Saturday at District Duals was the first time this year he's weighed in at least 170 pounds when he weighed in at 172.3.
The combination of White, Matt Herr, Kyle Barnes and Dakota Nixon are a combined 100-17 this year and are a big part of the reason Hughesville has been able to advance to this point. Their strength combined with the emergence of freshmen Zach Fry and Trevor Sones and the late-season return of Matt Heinreich made Hughesville a contender in the District 4 Duals despite their No. 12 seed.
"There was a period of time in the beginning of the year where I was pretty down. By this third year, I didn't think I'd be forfeiting," Budman said. "To take a step back for me to forfeit in essence two weights, and some of the year three weights, was tough. Certainly in the beginning of the year, dual-meet wise I did not have as bright an outlook. Then we kept winning. They kept beating guys they shouldn't have beaten. It's pretty neat to be in this situation."
"We got spanked (at the Blue Mountain Duals), but I could see this coming," Barnes said. "No matter what week it was or who we were wrestling, they came downstairs and wrestled with intensity. Whether we had 10 kids at practice because half were out with the flu or whatever, those 10 kids would come in and go hard. I have faith in these guys."