HERSHEY - A year ago, Hayden Hidlay made it to the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAA wrestling championships, and he had yet to take the mat.
Hidlay accepted the rare first-round forfeit handed out on the Giant Center floor, but never got the experience of his hand going in the air due to his work on the mat.
And he didn't like that one bit.
Mifflin County’s Hayden Hidlay, right, pulls Dallastown’s Wesley Hoover to the mat in the PIAA Class AAA wrestling championships Thursday in Hershey. Hidlay won the 138-pound preliminary and advanced to today’s quarterfinals at Giant Center.
Mifflin County’s Noah Stewart, bottom, tries to work free from Mason Bentzel of Spring Grove in a first-round 152-pound match in the PIAA Class AAA wrestling championships Thursday in Hershey.
Today, he's back in the quarterfinals, but he did it through his own effort. Hidlay scored four takedowns - two of them in the first period - and tilted Dallastown's Wesley Hoover twice on the way to a 12-2 major decision in the first round.
He'll be joined in the second session by Noah Stewart, who gutted out a come-from-behind win in the first consolation round. The two are the sole survivors for Mifflin County.
Hidlay went to the quarterfinals by staying focused, by dictating the flow of the match and controlling Hoover from start to finish.
"That's what I expected to do today," he said confidently after the match. "You're gonna have nerves before it, and you've just got to use those to get ready for the match."
That sets up an expected meeting this afternoon between Hidlay and Michael Kemerer of Franklin Regional, who won a decision over the Husky grappler at the Powerade Christmas Tournament.
"The first time I faced him I wasn't into it. That wasn't one of my better matches," the Mifflin County sophomore admitted. "(Today) it's going to be a whole 'nother ballgame."
Hidlay was up first and finished before Kemerer got out of the second period Thursday, and he was there to see the Southwest runner-up - who like Hidlay has just two losses on the season - dispatch West Chester Henderson's Brad Patton in a 7-3 decision. He watched intently, but perhaps with a hint of excitement.
"It was hard not to look forward to that match all week. I got ready, me and coach (Kirby) Martin practiced to wrestle against Kemerer," Hidlay said. "It's going to be a good match for me; I'm going to go out there and have fun and hopefully get the win."
It's a different situation than a year ago, when Hidlay was unprepared for the quarters.
"Last year was pretty rough. I didn't get to wrestle the first match," he recalled. "I went out in my quarterfinal match without getting my feet wet a little bit. That wasn't the most ideal situation for me."
Stewart gave up a quick takedown to Tyler Tarsi of Nazareth in the must-win consolations. He escaped before the first ended, and added another escape point by choosing defense when he won the toss to start the second.
"I was able to battle back from it and I knew I could win that match," Stewart said.
And he did it on his terms, going for the escape point to tie rather than deferring choice - a gamble if he needed the point, or couldn't afford to give one up, later.
"I know getting as many points as quick as you can is important, so that's why I went down," he said. "I'm also very confident on top and I like to ride kids out."
In the first round, Stewart wrestled a scoreless 152-pound preliminary against Spring Grove's Mason Bentzel, but had to cut Bentzel from the bottom when the two went to their feet midway through the third. Bentzel rode Stewart the entire second period. Bentzel clinched it with a takedown in the final seconds.
Trey Hartsock (182 pounds) had a pair of escapes against a takedown and an escape in a 3-2 loss to James Buchanan's Casey Glunt in the first round. Hartsock tied the match with his first escape, but Glunt scored on offense and Hartsock ran out of time.
His season ended at the hands of Caleb Edwards of Avon Grove, who advanced on a 9-1 major decision.
Tim Pearce, the lone Husky senior that made it here, was roughed up in his state debut at 195 by Parkland's Nezar Haddad, who had three takedowns and back points in the first, then pinned Pearce with 30 seconds left in the second period.
Pearce stayed even despite fighting obvious abdominal pain into the second period of his first-round consolation match, but gave up a clinching takedown to Karon Lucas-Tillery of Pennwood.