"What I remember most is the pressure, a lot of pressure," recalls John Hanrahan. "I first felt it when I took third place as a sophomore. Since I won last year, there'll be even more pressure this year. We (wrestlers and coaches) talk about it, try and get ready for the pressure."
This week coaches and wrestlers (like Hanrahan of Falls Church) from all over Virginia are getting ready for the pressure of the state AAA wrestling tournament today and tomorrow at Robinson.
One hundred ninty-six wrestlers have a chance, but only 12 individuals and one team will gain the title of state champ.
For some, like Pat Griel (132 pounds) of Lake Braddock, a senior and four-time state tourney participant, it will be a last shot to win it all. For a few, such as Ed Culpepper (98) of McLean, it will be an opportunity to complete the impossible dream of a state title as a freshman. For a handful like Hanrahan (155), it will be a chance to reassert superiority.
Most of the qualifiers in the Northern Region (four in each of 12 weight classes) have been gathering all week at two sites. Falls Church and Lake Braddock, to prepare for the ordeal.
"Oh, that won't be any problem, getting ready," asserts Hanrahan. "We're doing lots of running, drills and 100 percent (all-out) wrestling. There isn't much teaching at this stage.
"Getting your mind ready? Well, I talked to Pat Griel and he says he likes to meditate for about 20 minutes a day, just to clean out his mind."
Falls Church, the Northern Region champ, and runner-up Lake Braddock should have the best shots among the area schools to win the team title as each qualified five wrestlers.
Falls Church will send regional champions Hanrahan. Sam Smith (unbeaten at 126) and Steve Swankowski (heavyweight) along with Potomac District winners Burt Clayborne (138) and Turner Kobayashi (122). Falls Church finished third in the state tourney last year.
Lake Braddock, the Borthern District titleholder, placed fourth last season. This year it will rely on Glen Nicholson (unbeaten at 98 until the regional), David Webb (105), Phil Case (19-1 and regional runner-up at 126) Griel (132) and Matt Klaren (three-time regional runner-up and 18-2 at 185).
Pat Griel is the only grappler in 22 years of Northern Region wrestling to capture district and region titles all four years of high school. But the state title has always slipped just beyond his grasp.
As a sophomore, he was leading in the final until, as Bob Klaren put it, "He got himself in a headlock and the other boy whipped him down and pinned him." Last year, wrestling within days of his father's death, he placed third.
This year he has another obstacle to overcome. As recently as Wednesday he was in the hospital, in traction, trying to correct a nerve problem in his spine. But, Klaren says, "Pat will be there."
Top teams from around the state are Bethel (Hampton), the defending champ, and Kempsville (Virginia Beach) of the Eastern Region, Douglas Freeman (Richmond) and Highland Springs of the Central and Northside (Roanoke) and Gar-Field of the Northwest.
Besides Hanrahan, three other champions return. Chris Taylor of First Colonial (Virginia Beach) was a 105 winner. He's now at 119. John Davis of Maury (Norfolk), a freshman winner at 132, will take a shot at 138. Tom Turbeville of Bethel will defend his 145 title.