Ben Minnich called the District 4 tournament a sobering experience. Although unheralded throughout much of the year, the North Penn senior always seemed to be the likely district and regional favorite when it came to a balanced and unpredictable 170-pound weight class.
So a week after winning a sectional title, Minnich left the Magic Dome at Williamsport High School without a district gold medal. That was the sobering part for him. As much as he was considered the favorite, especially as the top seed, he also believed it.
When he lost to Midd-West's Alex Lieberman, he wasn't pleased. But it was a moment which allowed him to refocus.
FRANK?DIMON/For the Sun-Gazette
North Penn’s Ben Minnich, right, wrestles with South Williamsport’s Justin Knee, left, during the Northeast?Regional 170-pound final on Saturday night at Williamsport.
Minnich capitalized on the opportunity to refocus when he won the 170-pound Northeast Regional championship on Saturday night. He became North Penn's first-ever regional champion and just its second-ever state qualifier a year after Nathan Stettler qualified in the 220-pound field.
"I didn't want to get all the way to the championship and (lose) again," Minnich said after collecting his gold medal Saturday. "I've been feeling sick, but I fought through that and really thought I did well."
He had a brilliant day of wrestling Saturday. His semifinal win over Benton's Brandon Lontz was a sublime display of wrestling, staying away from the things that made the undersized Lontz so dangerous, while capitalizing on the openings he got for an 8-2 win.
Minnich then put together a solid 10-6 win over South Williamsport's Justin Knee in the finals, the second time he's beaten Knee for a postseason championship in the last three weeks.
"I was really just happy to go to states for the first time," Minnich said. "Winning is definitely nice, it'll be nice to be in a good spot and hopefully I can place when I get down to states."
He admitted he's putting pressure on himself to have a good weekend when he gets to Hershey later this week. North Penn's program is in its infancy with its co-op with Mansfield and Liberty and has never had a wrestler win a match at the state tournament, let alone win a medal at the state tournament.
Minnich wants to be the person that does both. He understands that's probably putting unnecessary pressure on himself, but he doesn't so much mind.
He's coming off three weeks of postseason wrestling where he's been the most consistent performer in a weight class that was about as predictable as lottery numbers. He was the only one to reach the finals at sectionals, districts and regionals at 170 pounds. His regional title was well-deserved and that's why he thinks he can make history at the Giant Center beginning Thursday.
"A little pressure helps me wrestler better, so I'm putting that pressure on myself," he said. "My mental confidence is really there right now."
THE NOT WAITING GAME
There was no backing himself into a corner. Isaiah Bobotas knew missing out on a trip to Hershey this year was going to put an undue amount of stress on his shoulders when he came back to wrestling for his senior season.
So when he finished third Saturday at 160 pounds to earn his first trip to the state tournament, Bobotas felt the weight of the world lift off his shoulders. The Montgomery junior says he feels like he can already relax when he gets to the Giant Center this week. He doesn't feel the pressure of having just one opportunity to prove himself on a state-level stage.
"The pressure's off and I'm down there, now it's time to place," Bobotas said.
Bobotas was hoping to work his way into the finals. He texted assistant coach Kenny Harer on Friday night asking if he had figured out a gameplan for how Bobotas was going to wrestle Mifflinburg's Ty Walter in Saturday morning's semifinals. Harer responded he had.
Bobotas ended up being pinned in just 22 seconds. It was something he and Harer were able to laugh about, showing how relaxed the junior is as he's making the best postseason run of his three-year career.
"Yup, it didn't go as planned," Bobotas said with a laugh. "I saved some energy at least, and we laughed about it and brushed it off."
He didn't have the abundance of tough competition during the regular season that he would have liked to have had. He had an early-season loss to Canton's Tyler Cole bumping up a weight class, and a close match with Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech's Troy Patterson.
But the only other real test he had throughout the course of the year was a stellar 3-2 win over South Williamsport's Justin Knee in a Jan. 17 dual-meet. Even though his only regular-season loss came on the second day of the season, he said it was that kind of match that's helped prepare him for the postseason run he's been able to make.
"I need those matches to push me," Bobotas said. "I'd rather lose during that time of the year instead of now. You get a loss or two during the season and it's nothing new. You have to bounce back from it. It's part of the sport and you have to do it."
Bobotas will be joining two close friends of his in Hershey this week. He's been wrestling with Muncy's Troy Hembury and Skylar Ebner since he was in elementary school. He also wrestled with them on the varsity team at Muncy for two years before transferring to Montgomery this year.
He said that'll help him be relaxed when he gets to the Giant Center.
"To see us all down there together is a great thing," Bobotas said.
THE OBVIOUS TRUTH
Billy Barnes' season has gone much better than his freshman year season. It's a simple statement, an obvious statement, but one made true by his second-place finish at the Northeast Regional tournament at 145 pounds.
The Williamson sophomore's season a year ago had a frustrating end to it when he lost in the third-place match at regionals by a point, missing out on the state tournament by one win. Even though he didn't get his goal of winning a regional championship Saturday, he put together a strong performance by beating Midd-West's Zach Heeter in the semifinals, and taking three-time state placewinner Colt Cotten of Benton into overtime in the finals.
But he's still going to the state tournament for the first time. In fact, he's one of three Williamson wrestlers who qualified, joining 126-pounder Logan Everett and 132-pounder Trevor McWhorter.
"I've been waiting all year to get my revenge at this tournament," Barnes said. "Going to states is a lot better than getting regional fourth and going home, knowing you were one step away from Hershey."
Barnes put on a much-better showing in his finals match against Cotten than he did a week ago in the District 4 final, a match which he said he knew he was hesitant in. Saturday he was aggressive and scored the first takedown against Cotten.
He had a 3-1 lead with less than a minute to go in the third period. Cotten scored a takedown to tie the score at 3-3 with 11 seconds remaining when he got in deep on a single-leg and gathered both of Barnes' ankles on the edge of the circle. Cotten then won with a takedown just over 30 seconds into sudden-victory overtime.
Barnes was encouraged, though, by the performance, which he had every right to be.
"I had my spot in states so I went out there and didn't worry about anything but my match," Barnes said. "I wanted to show (Cotten) I was no pushover and I'll give him a run for his money, and maybe even beat him next time. I wanted to go after him and show him I'm not scared."
He's definitely happy with where his wrestling is at heading into the state tournament later this week, but he said he knows there's still work he can do in the days leading up to the first round on Thursday to get better.
"I have to push a little harder in practice," Barnes said. "I have to do a little bit extra before I go to bed. Wake up in the morning and go for a run. I just need to do the extra stuff to get better."
Mitch Rupert covers high school wrestling for the Sun-Gazette. You can reach him at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.