He may try to fight the feeling, but Connor Evans expects to be in awe before he takes the mat in the Division I state wrestling tournament for the first time.
The Olentangy Orange High School senior and sophomore teammate Rocco Torio will compete at state Thursday, March 8, through Saturday, March 10, at Ohio State.
Evans accompanied Bryce Houston during weigh-ins and other pre-tournament activities last season, but he knows everything will be more emotional as a participant.
"I was able to go in during weigh-ins and step out on the floor last year, but I know it will be different being there as an actual competitor," said Evans, a 145-pounder who enters state at 34-13 overall. "Knowing I'm there competing with the best of the best will be 10,000 times better than that.
"It means everything (to reach state). It has been a culmination of all of the hard work and training I have put in this sport. It's indescribable to finally reach my goal."
Evans and Torio both placed fourth in the district tournament March 2 and 3 at Hilliard Darby. The top four finishers in each weight class advanced to state.
The 126-pound Torio reached a semifinal before being pinned in 3 minutes, 6 seconds by eventual runner-up Jordan Rosselli of Liberty. He dropped to a consolation semifinal and pinned Watkins Memorial's Alec Fulwider in 4:33 to earn his state berth.
"You have to take each match as they come," said Torio, who enters state at 28-12 after losing to Hilliard Davidson's Gio DiSabato 19-4 in the third-place match at district. "My style is really unique because I have wrestled a lot of Greco(-Roman) and a lot of people don't do that. I like what I have, I know how to do it and I know if I just keep going I can wrestle well."
After losing 8-0 in the second round to eventual champion Xander Gore of Olentangy, Evans worked his way through the consolation bracket. He defeated Davidson's Demetri Monroe 7-0 in a state-qualifying match before losing to Marysville's Walker Heard 10-2 in the third-place match.
"I lost early (at district) last year and made it all the way to the blood round," said Evans, who was pinned by Gore in 53 seconds last season in a state-qualifying match at 145. "When you get a loss, you can't let it bother you too much. The kid I lost to (Gore) is good, so I just wanted to keep going."
The Pioneers had two state qualifiers last year in 2017 graduate Logan Broskie at 160 and the 220-pound Houston, who missed his senior season this winter because of a right knee injury suffered during football in the fall. This season, they again reached that number.
Coach Scott Tressler said Evans and Torio were able to stay focused when things didn't go their way at district.
"As a program and a coaching staff we strive for the postseason," Tressler said. "You can't allow one big victory or one big loss to deter you.
"We have started to turn this corner. These guys were super-focused (at district) and you couldn't ask for more of them."
Orange finished 12th (45 points) at district behind champion Lancaster (170) as 38 teams scored.
Junior Cole Jackson went 3-3 at 113 and finished sixth. Also competing were sophomore Alex Lopez (195, 0-2) and freshman Zach Miller (120, 1-2).
Bowling teams end season at district
The boys and girls bowling teams competed in the Division I district tournament March 3 at HP Lanes but did not have anyone qualify for state.
The top three teams and top three individuals not on qualifying teams advanced.
The boys finished eighth (3,374) of 16 teams behind state-qualifiers Westerville Central (3,907), Marion Harding (3,645) and Whitehall (3,580). Northland's Cameron Singer (656, first), Groveport's Chaz Wilson (653, second) and Liberty's Daniel Valz (596, fifth) advanced as individuals.
Sophomore Tanner Davidson (513, 30th) and junior Brendan Tansky (498, 37th) were the only boys to roll three games for Orange.
The girls were 15th (2,588) of 16 teams behind state-qualifiers Gahanna (3,596), Whitehall (3,438) and Central (3,360). Gahanna's Shannon Gonzales (581) was medalist, while Briggs' Dakota Fink (574, second), Eastmoor Academy's Averi Brown (564, third) and Delaware's Kelsey Rohrer (550, fourth) advanced as individuals.
Sophomore Raymie Shields (394, tied for 65th) led Orange, followed by seniors Emma Storrer and Haley Wemple (both 376, tied for 70th) and junior Mckenzie Peterson (357, 73rd).
In the boys sectional Feb. 23 at HP Lanes, Orange finished eighth (3,384) of 38 teams behind champion Central (3,836) as senior Tommy Ciaciura (530, 30th) led the way.
The girls placed 13th (2,918) of 37 teams behind champion Gahanna (3,642) in the sectional Feb. 24 at HP Lanes as Storrer (478, tied for 27th) led the Pioneers.
The boys finished 10-4 overall, tied Marysville for third (8-4) in the Central Ohio High School Bowling Conference-A Division behind champion Central (12-0) and tied Big Walnut, Liberty, Olentangy and Westerville South for second (4-3) in the OCC-Buckeye behind Central (7-0).
The girls finished 8-6 overall, tied Big Walnut and Westerville North for sixth (6-6) in the COHSBC-A behind champion Gahanna (12-0) and tied the same two teams for fourth (3-4) in the OCC-Buckeye behind champion Olentangy (7-0).
Boys basketball team drops district opener
The boys basketball team opened the Division I district tournament by losing at 12th-seeded Logan 65-48 on March 2 in a second-round game.
The 13th-seeded Pioneers finished 13-10.
Matt McCollum led Orange with 13 points. Luke Ballinger and Bryson Lane both had 10 points.
Hockey squad shows improvement
Third-year coach Tim Chugh said the hockey team surpassed his expectations and showed continued improvement, which should help it next season.
The 11th-seeded Pioneers finished 19-16-1 overall, losing to third-seeded St. Charles 5-2 on Feb. 18 in the second round of the district tournament. They defeated 23rd-seeded Mason 14-0 on Feb. 17 in the first round.
"The season went about as I had expected," Chugh said. "I thought at the beginning that we were about a .500 team and we finished three games over. I was disappointed that we didn't go further in the district, but that's how it goes sometimes."
Orange was fourth (13 points, 6-9-1) in the Capital Hockey Conference-White behind Cincinnati Moeller, (25, 12-3-0-1), Olentangy (20, 10-6) and Springboro (16, 7-7-1-1) and ahead of Dublin Coffman (8, 3-11-0-2).
Senior forward Jack Wander had a team-high 25 goals along with 12 assists. Senior goaltender Ian Cozby had 481 saves and senior goalie Ryan Surowiec made 304 saves.
Rounding out the seven-player senior class were defensemen Tristan Boytar (13 goals, 10 assists) and Kevin Jones (1 goal, 10 assists) and forwards Chase Dye (2 goals, 3 assists) and Bobby Golias (15 goals, 14 assists).
Junior forwards Zach Miller (19 goals, 21 assists) and Aaron Mosher (19 goals, 10 assists) and sophomore forwards Nathan Hazel (6 goals, 5 assists) and Cam Miller (13 goals, 13 assists) are expected to be the top returning scoring threats.
Junior defenseman Josh Gutkoski (8 goals, 14 assists) should lead the back line, and junior Nathan Thompson (31 saves) is the favorite to take over in goal.
@ThisWeekHennenAt a glance
*Record: Boys -- 10-4 overall, 8-4 (tied for third) in COHSBC-A, 4-3 (tied for second) in OCC-Buckeye; Girls -- 8-6 overall, 6-6 (tied for sixth) in COHSBC-A, 3-4 (tied for fourth) in OCC-Buckeye
*Seniors lost: Boys -- Tommy Ciaciura, Gabe Jacobs, Andrew Kicas and Jaden Wiebell; Girls -- Selena DeGreef, Cynthia Manngard, Emma Storrer and Haley Wemple
*Key returnees: Boys -- Tanner Davidson and Brendan Tansky; Girls -- Mckenzie Peterson and Raymie Shields
*Record: 19-16-1 overall, 6-9-1 (fourth) in CHC-White
*Seniors lost: Tristan Boytar, Ian Cozby, Chase Dye, Bobby Golias, Kevin Jones, Ryan Surowiec and Jack Wander
*Key returnees: Nathan Hazel, Josh Gutkoski, Cam Miller, Zach Miller, Aaron Mosher and Nathan Thompson