Last year about this time, Rock Bridge’s Cam Purcell trudged slowly into a lonely, dark tunnel at Hearnes Center, vowing never to feel the same disappointment again.
Purcell had just been eliminated from the state wrestling tournament, losing in the first round and again in wrestlebacks, after he had qualified for the first time. He hopes not to repeat the feeling this year.
“When I was eliminated last year, the first thought I had was, 365 days from then, I’m getting to state and placing,” Purcell said. “Because, losing, I don’t like it.”
Purcell wrestled at 152 pounds last year, placing third at districts and fourth at sectionals to qualify for the state meet. This year, a growth spurt in the off-season put him in the 171-pound weight class for his senior season. He placed fourth at districts to qualify for the state finals, which begin today at Hearnes Center.
Purcell said he thinks a lot of wrestlers have their confidence shaken when they make it to state for the first time.
“It’s impressive walking into the Hearnes Center and seeing 3,000 people leaving from the last class, and 3,000 people coming in for the next, and all those mats,” Purcell said. “It really does strike fear into some kids’ eyes. You can see it when you’re there.”
Hickman 189-punder Zach Arnold will wrestle in his third state meet this season. Arnold said he remembers the atmosphere at the state tournament as if he were there yesterday.
“I’ve been thinking about it all year long,” Arnold said. “This is what the whole year is about. You kind of think about the fact that everybody is looking at you and you definitely don’t want to lose. It’s a pretty cool feeling. I want to be in that finals match where everybody from your class and weight are looking at you.”
Arnold and Hickman 119-pounder Tony Pescaglia are looking to better third-place state finishes last season. Pescaglia, who will also be wrestling in his third state meet, agreed it’s a unique environment.
“It can be pretty nerve-racking, but I’ve been there before,” Tony Pescaglia said. “You can’t let your emotions go wild. It’s exciting because all your friends and family are out there rooting you on, and all the work you’ve done is going to mean something, getting to perform in front of everybody.”
Purcell said he will try not to get too excited this year.
“This time, I’m going to be more calm. I’m ready for it,” Purcell said. “I know what’s going to be there, and I know how it works. There’s nothing new to me, so I think I’m going to perform better mentally this time around.”
Arnold said he won’t change anything.
“I’m still going in there the same way,” Arnold said. “I feel I did my best I could there the last two years and really don’t think there is anything I need to change. It doesn’t really matter how good you did last year or this season, it’s what you do here in the next three days.”
Rock Bridge coach John Kopnisky has been trying to help his wrestlers focus this week by scheduling late practices. He said he was getting them into a routine of wrestling at night because the Class 4 tournament begins at 4:15 p.m. and will run late into the evening.
Kopnisky also had his entire wrestling team in the practice room, even though Purcell and junior 103-pounder Justin Davis were the only Bruin qualifiers.
“It’s a morale issue,” Kopnisky said. “It’s one of these things where, if you’re the only one in there working out, you forget that you’re on a team, and what the purpose is, and all that kind of stuff.”
Hickman coach J.D. Coffman said how well his wrestlers perform is up to them.
“The individual championships are real important to these guys, so they’re focused on it,” Coffman said. “Their intensity in practice and attention to detail in practice is what makes that end result happen. I do really want to see them succeed, but I’m like an armchair quarterback out there at this point in the season and there is truly nothing I can do to help at this point.”