Billy Barnes got to his sixth-place spot on the stage erected by the PIAA to showcase the state medalists' podium. He reached out and handed his metal crutches to Williamson head coach Mark Everett.
He stood their patiently, hands locked in front of him, as parents proudly took pictures of the top eight 145-pound wrestlers in the PIAA's Class AA. A look of discontent never left the Warrior sophomore's face.
Happy to hobble out of the Giant Center with his first state medal Saturday afternoon, Barnes was more upset to have not gotten the opportunity to wrestle himself into a better finish than the sixth-place one he was saddled with. After being injured in the semifinals against eventual state champion Michael Racciato on Friday night, Barnes forfeited the final two matches of the tournament because of the injury that forced him to walk with crutches Saturday.
"Not being able to wrestle killed me," Barnes said after receiving his medal. "It made me feel like I wasn't supposed to be here, kind of. It made me feel like I could do better, and not being able to show people that I can do better, really hurt."
With the two wins Barnes posted in his first PIAA tournament on Thursday and Friday, he surely opened some eyes. Even his fellow state qualifiers from District 4 were impressed when he got a takedown at the buzzer on Thursday morning to beat Blairsville's Noah Tarr to move into the quarterfinals.
He followed that with a convincing win Friday morning over Northwest Regional champion Levi Stoyer of Reynolds. The likelihood was he wasn't going to beat Racciato, the Pittsburgh-bound senior who won his third consecutive state championship Saturday, in the semifinals. But if there was ever a chance to test himself and see just how far he had come in two years of varsity wrestling, wrestling Racciato was that chance.
But as the two were scrambling in the first period, Racciato pulled Barnes backward and Barnes' left foot got caught under him. Barnes was clearly in pain, but it wasn't until the official counted near-fall points that he stopped the match.
Initially, tournament doctors thought he may have fractured his femur. Barnes had clearly aggravated a groin injury that has plagued him for much of the second half of the season. It was one of the reasons the Warriors opted out of the District 4 Duals tournament in January despite being the second seed.
The doctors braced his legs as he was wheeled out of the Giant Center on a stretcher. He made his return to the arena Saturday after spending the night in the Hershey Medical Center. Doctors determined the leg wasn't broken, but hadn't determined the extent of the injury. He was scheduled for an MRI later Saturday.
"He's an amazing wrestler," Barnes said of Racciato. "To get on the mat with him was a great experience for me, to show me where I'm at and show me what it takes to be the best in the state. I'd like to get a chance to be the best in the state."
Barnes was already thinking about his future even as he polished off the best season of his career. There was clearly evident frustration in his voice as he spoke in the back halls of the Giant Center. Other wrestlers celebrated with their friends and family, taking pictures to commemorate the accomplishment of winning a PIAA medal.
That wasn't so much the case for Barnes. Instead he spoke to how he was going to let this weekend drive his future. He was going to take a negative - as negative as being in the top six in the state can be - and allow it to push him to prove he's better than what he was given the opportunity to show.
"I know I can't stop an injury," Barnes said. "But it'll push me to train harder to get past the semis next year and into the state finals so I can win it."
He's already on the radar of Division I college coaches throughout the country. His instincts on the mat and fearless approach to any opponent are only further magnified by the talent he's shown in two years as a varsity wrestler.
In his mind, though, he still feels there's something to prove. State medals are great, but they're even better if they're gold.
"I'm happy, but not satisfied," Barnes said. "I feel I could have done better. I feel like sixth is not my potential. I just have to show everybody what I can do next year."
His sophomore season was pretty darn good. Any future opponents should be worried about a junior season that could be even better.
Mitch Rupert can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.