The way the spotlight shines on the mats during the lengthy introductions, vividly contrasting the darkened arena. The short walk from the locker rooms to the floor of the Salem Civic Center. The blaring music played throughout the event and the deafening crowd noise.
All of the sights, smells and sounds of the Virginia AA wrestling meet will be familiar to Potomac Falls junior William Powars as he returns to Salem for his third try at a state championship this weekend.
Even his likely opponent will be familiar.
As a freshman, Powars finished second in the state meet, losing to Christiansburg's B.J. Compton in the final after winning the Dulles District and Region II titles in the 103-pound weight class. Last year at 112, Powars again won the Dulles and Region II championships but finished third in the state meet in Salem, losing to Compton, the eventual champion, in the semifinals.
Powars defeated Turner Ashby's Marshall Smiley, 4-2, in the 119-pound final at the Region II tournament last weekend and hopes that his familiarity with the state meet finally breeds a championship.
"Sometimes in the past, I think I may have been a little bit scared," said Powars, 30-1 this season and 110-4 in his career. "Most of the time, I'm not scared, but for some reason, every time I get out there, it takes me a while to get up to 100 percent."
Powars, who no longer wants to be known as "Will," is one of six Potomac Falls wrestlers who qualified for the state tournament and knows whom to expect, what to anticipate and what to change.
"I need to get warmed up and then go out there and take the first shot," Powars said. "Last time [against Compton], I was down, 4-1, before I started wrestling. I came back and got it into overtime, but I don't want to give up a couple of points before I realize it's time to start really wrestling."
Broad Run junior Harrison Shipp is also familiar with the surroundings at the state meet, but unfortunately, he spent most of his time in a nearby hospital.
During a match last March, Shipp was head-butted by his opponent, suffering a slight concussion. He continued to wrestle until the match went into overtime, when he collapsed.
"I blacked out on my feet and ended up in the hospital," said Shipp, a 130-pounder who is 27-1 this season. "Right now, I'm looking forward to getting back to states and staying healthy."
Shipp soundly defeated Fort Defiance's Brandon Summers, 14-2, in the Region II final. Ranked third in the state in his weight class, Shipp is hoping to spend more time on the winner's podium than in a hospital bed.
"I'm pretty sure I can upset the two ranked ahead of me," Shipp said. "What happened last year is in the past, and this year, I'm going to wrestle my best."
Fauquier senior Charles Jenkins has been one of the best in his weight class for two seasons and also has his share of dissatisfaction to overcome this weekend. Two years ago, he reached the Virginia AAA final but lost to Potomac's Chad Malone, whom he had beaten the previous week at the Northwestern Region meet. Last March, Jenkins lost to Christiansburg's Anthony Boyd in the 189-pound final, a disappointing end to a sterling season.
Jenkins has won 16 of 17 matches this season, including a 16-4 major decision over Potomac Falls junior Danny Kramer in the 215-pound regional final.
"I feel like I'm in better shape than I was last year," Jenkins said. "Last year, I was worried about everything, I didn't know what the competition was, didn't know who to look out for. This year, I'm not going to worry about any of that. I'm going to go out like I always do every match."