The story is so familiar to Troy Hembury, he recounts it like it's his phone number. He remembers being in his first state tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey, preparing for the 145-pound semifinals, knowing he was in for an uphill battle.
As a sophomore, Hembury was facing former state champion Nick Hodgkins of Wyomissing, and despite the great season he had put together, the likelihood of him beating Hodgkins was slim. He remembers making the comment that he had a "buzz saw" in his next match with Hodgkins.
His uncle stopped him after that comment and told Hembury something he has never forgotten.
Muncy’s Troy Hembury left, has more career victories than any District 4 wrestler at this week’s PIAA?championships.
"He tells me, you are the buzz saw," the now Muncy senior recounted earlier this week. "He said you have to believe that's who you are."
Hembury ended up finishing fifth that year in the state tournament. But his uncle's statement was prophetic. Hembury's become as dominant a wrestler as there is in District 4 as a senior.
His 163 career wins are more than any other District 4 wrestler competing at the state tournament, which begins Thursday morning at 9 a.m. And with a top-8 finish this weekend, Hembury will become just the third three-time state placewinner in school history, joining Harold Hill and Larry Lauchle.
He's the No. 2-ranked wrestler at 182 pounds in the state, behind just three-time state placewinner and returning state runner-up Dakota DesLauriers of Burrell. The truth is Hembury has nothing left to prove in his high school career. That being said, a state championship is the only thing missing.
"I would love to win states," Hembury said. "I do a lot of freestyle and Greco, and it would have been nice to win at Fargo. That's a lot bigger accomplishment than states. But states is the big thing right now."
He's maybe best prepared for the state tournament now as a senior than he was in his first two trips to the tournament. As a sophomore at 145, he was sucked out with his weight in order to best fit into Muncy's lineup in a season in which it went to the PIAA Duals tournament.
Last year, at 170 pounds, he learned he wasn't quite strong enough to deal with the upper echelon kids in his weight. It was the first thing he pointed to after the tournament as the reason he didn't place higher than fourth.
He noticed it most in his quarterfinal loss to United's John Blankenship, a match in which he was pinned in overtime. Hembury was in deep on shots numerous times but just didn't have the strength to finish them.
Now, as a senior, Hembury looks physically bigger. He also says he feels stronger.
"Everyone I talk to says I'm significantly stronger," Hembury said. "I definitely feel a lot stronger. I'm not cutting much weight at all, and I think that has a lot to do with it. I hit the weights harder this year. I knew not being strong enough was one of the reasons I lost and I used it as motivation."
Now you combine that improved strength with the tactician he is on the mat, and Hembury is having the best season of his career, and is in the midst of his best opportunity to become a state champion. His lone loss this year came on the second day of the season to Bald Eagle Area's Jacob Taylor, a favorite to win the Class AAA 182-pound title, on a controversial penalty point.
Just three of his wins this year have been by decision, and the last one was a 3-1 win over Central Mountain two-time state qualifier Blaze Backwater on Dec. 29. Just one of his eight postseason bouts went a full six minutes, and that one was an 18-4 win over Brenton's Logan Dusseldorf in last week's Northeast Regional final.
His first five postseason wins were by technical fall, and the next two were by fall. Only the likes of Miltown's Ryan Solomon and Brenton's Rain Rutherford can claim to have had as dominant seasons as Hembury has this year in District 4.
"I definitely think I'm peaking right now which Coach (Denny) Harer is always trying to get us to do," Hembury said. "At sectionals and districts he wants us peaking because if you peak too early, you'll have to come back down eventually. I feel pretty tough right now, but I can always get better."
Hembury has translated maybe the best career in Muncy wrestling history which includes three sectional, district and regional titles into a chance to wrestle next year at Columbia. And wrestling for Columbia wasn't something Hembury thought was going to happen.
In fact, when he made his visit to the New York City campus with his dad, Ron, he was actually making the visit to cross the school off his list of potential wrestling destinations.
"I was a little bit against it, but I fell in love with the place," Hembury said. "It was just amazing how you could have such a nice place right in the middle of the city."
Ever since he had started his college search, his dad kept bringing up the idea of going to Cornell. Both Ron and his wife Lori are Cornell graduates.
Troy used to joke with his dad that if he went to Lehigh it would only be a 2 -hour trip to come watch him wrestle. His dad would respond by saying if you go a certain way to Ithaca, it's actually shorter than that.
But Hembury found his home at Columbia. He plans on majoring in either finance or economics, especially with Columbia's proximity to Wall Street and the opportunities it would help provide.
"I'm not going to be able to wrestle my whole life, and only a select few get to be a head coach for a college wrestling team," Hembury said. "But my parents taught me since I was young that your grades are just as important as wrestling. They both experienced the Ivy League and they pushed me to look at that. It's a special fraternity and there's great alumni who can open doors for you."
For now, Hembury will have to settle for opening up his own doors. He'll look to open the one to a state championship this weekend.