Wrestlers are creatures of habit when preparing for PIAA tournament

Tuesday, March 5, 2019 | 9:11 PM

Like many people, Austin Mele looks at his phone almost immediately upon waking up in the morning. The Burrell senior checks his texts and SnapChat account before plugging it back in, making sure it’s got a full charge. Then it’s time to brush his teeth, followed by checking his weight and drinking a glass of apple juice.

Although many people follow familiar routines, wrestlers like Mele consider themselves creatures of habit, particularly when it comes time for a major tournament like the upcoming PIAA championships at the Giant Center in Hershey.

“It just feels a little odd if I don’t have (a routine),” said Mele, who will wrestle in the 160-pound weight class at the Class AA state tournament. “I just feel like something’s out of place.

“It’s like that feeling that you’re forgetting something when you leave for a trip, but you’re really not. And I don’t really like that.”

While no two routines are completely the same, many wrestlers follow similar protocols, beginning in the morning.

Step 1: The weigh-in

Nothing looms larger for wrestlers in the morning than their tournament weigh-in: To remain eligible to compete, they can weigh up to two pounds heavier than their weight class. That means if Mele tips the scales at 162.1 pounds on any of the competition days in Hershey, he’s disqualified.

It requires vigilance on the part of wrestlers and their coaches when it comes to monitoring their food and water intake and their exercise.

“I like to know what I weigh right after practice, and then I’ll even go home and check on my scale just to make sure they’re the same,” said Kiski Area junior Nick Delp, a PIAA Class AAA qualifier at 170 pounds. “That way if I do go home and eat a lot, I’m not overweight.”

Delp estimates he weighs himself three or four times a day.

Once wrestlers weigh in within the proper allowance, they’re eligible for that full day of competition before the process resumes the next morning. Many of them will then have something to eat or drink before competition.

What do they eat? It varies: Kiski Area 160-pounder Jack Blumer likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or Sheetz buffalo chicken wraps. Delp goes for a protein bar or granola bar and Burrell 120-pounder Ian Oswalt goes for an everything bagel with cream cheese.

Many of them have a sweet — or sour — tooth: Blumer with Sour Patch kids, Valley 170-pounder Noah Hutcherson with sour Skittles, and Kiski Area 126-pounder Darren Miller with Mike and Ike.

“Depending on my weight the night before, I might eat a little bit,” Miller said. “I try and stay hydrated, though, for the most part. I feel like that’s real key. If you’re not hydrated or don’t have any liquids in you, then you’re going to start feeling like crap.”

Again, they have their own preferences about water, Gatorade, Propel or Powerade — and everyone has a favorite flavor.

“A couple years ago I had trouble with Gatorade — I couldn’t hold it down during a match,” said Mele, who now prefers Powerade. “I was always having it come up, (and) I don’t know why: It must be the sugar in it. After that, I went with Powerade.”

Step 2: Match preparation

Once in the arena and weighed in, it becomes time to get ready physically and mentally for a match. For some, that means trying to relax. For others, it requires some alone time. Still others like to get in a brief workout and warmup.

“I warm up with Cam (Connor),” Delp said of his senior teammate, also a state qualifier. “Him and I always drill a little bit, wrestle a match, get lactic acid out, stretch, jog. Then our assistant coach stretches us out.”

With the physical part done, it comes time for mental preparation.

“I get into a zone, kind of,” Connor said. “I don’t really like talking to people. I just like listening to music, getting into the zone and then just go out and start bouncing around before my match.”

Connor likes listening to hip-hop, and so does Hutcherson: The Valley senior listed 2 Chainz and Drake as two of the artists on his playlist. Hutcherson also takes the time to talk to his coaches and go over his plan for the match.

“I just think about everything I can do,” he said.

Most tournaments now have video boards that display not only which matches are taking place at the time but also which ones are coming up, providing wrestlers the opportunity to see when their bout is coming.

Delp has his pre-match routine down almost to the second: He stands beside his assigned mat as his match approaches, puts his headgear on when his bout is on deck and takes off his warmups with 30 seconds to go.

“I just like doing that (to) stay as warm as possible,” he said.

Then it’s time to wrestle.

Step 3: After the match

The all-day nature of tournaments means most competitors end up wrestling multiple times a day.

Sometimes the time between bouts lasts an hour or less. Other times it can be an hours-long gap: At the PIAA tournament, for example, the first Class AA session Friday ends in the early afternoon, and the next one doesn’t begin until 7:30 p.m. Class AAA wrestlers on Saturday will compete in the morning and then won’t be back until the championship and consolation finals at 7 p.m.

“I really hate the quick ones,” Mele said. “You wrestle a match, and then 45 minutes later you’re wrestling another match. So after my match, I’ll go run some sprints, try to keep my sweat going a little bit, stretch out. It (stinks) because you’re back to back. You’re not rested as much as you want to. You can’t really chug water or anything.

“With the long matches, you can go out there, wrestle your match and you can kind of relax, let it go, calm down. Then like an hour, hour and a half before, you start getting back up, start working back up to it.”

When done for the day, wrestlers will weigh themselves again, shower and head back to the hotel. Depending on their weight, they’ll eat a meal.

Then it begins all over again.

“Once you get into a routine, you’re used to doing it,” said Burrell’s Oswalt. “I think doing that every time really helps us with the mindset. We’re going out there, and let’s just hit our stuff.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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