BENNINGTON -- Nearly two dozen Mount Anthony Union High School wrestlers went through drills at a crisp practice at the Catamount Wrestling Club on Tuesday, preparing for the 25th annual National High School Coaches Association tournament that starts this weekend in Virginia Beach.
Twenty-four Patriot wrestlers will attend, including 12 of the 14 varsity athletes from the past season, some from the B team and a handful of middle school competitors.
"We took a week off after New Englands," said MAU and Catamount coach Scott Legacy. "The kids came in and looked sharp right away, we've had short practices, but they're still in peaking mode. We're extremely happy with how they're wrestling."
The NHSCA tournament is done by class, from freshmen to seniors. Freshman, sophomore and juniors are in an open tournament, while the seniors have to qualify.
The top 8 place-finishers are recognized as All-Americans and, for one MAU wrestler, will be looking to make some history.
With a top-8 finish, Jesse Webb would become a 4-time All-American, after winning the freshman and sophomore nationals, he was fifth as a junior. No MAU wrestler has ever placed four times.
"It's really another step," Webb said. "States was a step, New Englands [was a step], now [becoming a] 4-time All-American. I try to wrestle the best I can in every match and don't freak myself out about it."
Out of the 38 entries in the senior 285-pound bracket are James O'Hagan from Seaford, N.Y., who was runner-up at last year's Junior Nationals; Archer, Ga.'s Majah Couzan, a two-time state champion, and Maine's Aaron Lint, a three-time state champion. The official brackets won't be released until Thursday.
"You never know if you'll face them or not, so you have to put it on the back burner," Webb said. "You can't really worry about it or pay attention to it. You have to take it one takedown, one period, one match [and] do what you can do in that situation."
Junior Troy Gassaway comes in with some fire after winning a New England title and finishing one spot short of placing at Nationals as a sophomore. Last year, Gassaway moved up from 113 to 120 for this event -- this year he stays at 120.
"I just have to do what I've been doing, practicing hard," Gassaway said. "The season is tough enough, it prepares you for this. All those guys work year round, they want to win as much as I do."
Gassaway, who comes into the tournament with a 166-8 career record, said his experience in the past two events gives him an edge.
"When I first went as a freshman it was pretty big, not as big as a sophomore, but it went to my head a little bit," Gassaway said.
Senior Austin Price will be looking to place in the top 8 again after an 8th place finish at 182 pounds last year. Junior Jack Luciano was one match short of placing at 220 in 2013 and looks to make the next step.
Others competing will be Calvin Call, Tyler Raetz, Taber Watson, Dylan Lafountain, Darren Ruiz Sauer, Noble Shaler, Jacob Woodside, Tyler Mattison, Ashdin Schaefer, Austin Prendergast, John LaCroix, Dakota King, Brandon Babcock, Perle Webb, Tyler Burgess, Gage McLaughlin, Noah Call, Tyson Sauer and Quint Pearce.
For some, the trip will be a repeat. For others, it's a lifetime experience.
Freshmen Austin Pendergast and John LaCroix, each on the MAU ‘B' team this season, will make their inaugural trips to Nationals.
"It's pretty exciting, wrestling has made a big impact on my life," said Pendergast, who will wrestle at 132 pounds. "I've been working with heavier guys and more experienced guys to make myself better."
"It's by far one of the hardest things I've ever done," LaCroix said, who wrestles at 138 pounds. "You have to make sure you're fit and ready to go. I'm trying to dominate, shoot and score. My overall goal is to just get better."
As important as the goal of winning or becoming an All-American, Legacy said the most important thing is getting his wrestlers a good experience at an elite level.
"For a lot of these kids, they get opportunities they wouldn't otherwise. They go to places they've never been and at the same time, they get more practice [for next year], and exposure to elite competition. It's a win-win, even if a kid goes 0-2," Legacy said.
"We expect to come back with placers, and kids can win matches. "[But] if they lose, you can still gain experience coming back. I'm looking for them to enjoy the journey and reflect on what they learned. Wrestling aside, they're going to Virginia Beach, they'll experience cultural things and there's a huge bonding aspect. We all stay together, it's a fun experience."