HERSHEY >> It's the closest thing you'll find to a roller-coaster this side of Hersheypark.
The "blood round" of the PIAA Championships more than lives up to its billing. The 56 bouts wrestled can either unleash great joy, or elicit unbelievable sadness ... based on their outcomes for any individual wrestler.
"It's a tough round," Pope John Paul II head coach Tom Hontz said at the conclusion of Friday's action. "One minute you're on the top of the world, and the next minute you feel like your heart got torn out."
Friday's "blood round" in Class AAA produced a large outpouring of emotions both ways. For the nine Pioneer Athletic Conference grapplers who made it to the second day of tournament action at the Giant Center, there was a bit more sadness than joy.
Only four PAC representatives from the 19-man contingent that qualified for states will come home with medals - Pope John Paul II junior Ryan Vulakh reached the semifinals at 145 while Boyertown's Elijah Jones (195), Owen J. Roberts Dan Mancini (152) bounced back from quarterfinal defeats in the consolations.
Five others saw seasons and scholastic careers end with the crushing finality of losses.
One of the more painful finishes belongs to Brandon Meredith, the Spring-Ford senior, bidding for a second state medal to close out his scholastic career, instead endured an overtime loss to Seneca Valley's Louis Newell - a 5-3 sudden-victory verdict in the 120-pound bracket's third-round consolation.
The unhappy finale came after Meredith had scored the 150th victory of his career one round earlier, a 9-6 decision of General McLane's Matt Leehan.
"It was nice to get 150," he said, " but it would have been nicer to cap things off with a state medal."
The finish was similar to one Meredith experienced during last year's visit to states. That was after he placed fourth as a sophomore.
"It's tough to see a season, or a career, end on that note," Meredith said, "but you have to move on. As a senior, you try to grow and learn."
Upper Perkiomen's Jared Kuhns ended his high-school time the same way, falling short of a first state medal with a 2-0 loss to Mifflin County's Christian Fisher. It was an even more painful finish in light of the fact he was deprived of a bout-tying takedown in their 113-pound consi.
"It was a Peterson roll," Kuhns said of the takedown move he executed with about 10 seconds left. "I hit it, but they (referees) didn't give it to me."
Kuhns' first visit to the Giant Center saw him lose Shaler Area's Ryan Sullivan Thursday, after pulling out a 4-2 sudden-victory verdict over Easton's Evan Gleason in their preliminary pairing. He got back on the winning track with a 6-1 decision of Neshaminy's Zachary Martin.
Happy outcomes from the "blood round" belonged to Boyertown's Jones and Owen J. Roberts' Mancini. They rebounded from quarterfinal-round losses - Jones to Clearfield's Luke McGonigal, Mancini to Scranton's William Evanitsky - to secure medal finishes.
Jones, looking for an upgrade to the fifth-place medal he scored last year, scored a 7-0 decision on Souderton's Bruno Stolfi in their 195-pound consi. He had been dropped into wrestlebacks by McGonigal, who manhandled the Bear senior in a 13-3 major decision.
"The quarterfinal didn't go how I wanted it," he said. "It upset me, but it also got me in the mindset of not letting it happen again ... to keep a fast pace going the rest of the tournament."
It was a different story in the third-round consi with Stolfi, however.
"It puts a lot of pressure on you, to place or not," he said. "Coming from a loss, you can either give up or see how high you can get."
Mancini, a state qualifier last year who was unable to medal, found himself edged by Evanitsky 5-4. His response was a 6-0 shutout of Gettysburg's Dylan Reimert.
"Losing in the quarterfinals," he said, "you have to remember it's not the end of your tournament. You have to keep at it, learn from what you did.
"I remember last season, not being on the medal stand. It was a disappointment, something I wanted to be part of."
Along with Jones and Mancini, Pope John Paul II's Matt Vulakh got to the medal round through wrestlebacks. The Golden Panther freshman won twice Friday after being put into the 106-pound consolations Thursday, first with a sudden victory over Greater Latrobe's Brady Sherback and then with a 4-0 decision of Tunkhannock's Dave Evans.
Matt's older brother, Ryan, stayed in the championship bracket at 145 with a 4-0 verdict over Kiski Area's Cam Conner. He will now face highly-regarded Nazareth senior Samuel Sasso (45-1) in Saturday's semifinal in pursuit of a gold medal.
Three other PAC wrestlers saw their tournaments and seasons come to an end with losses early Friday. Methacton's Kibwe McNair (132) was blanked by Penn Trafford's Nick Coy, OJR's Antonio Petrucelli (138) and the Bears' Jacob Miller (182) was also shut out.
The trio was making its first appearances in the PIAA's individual tournament.
NOTES >> Meredith's milestone victory made him just the 14th wrestler from The Mercury's coverage area to pass the 150-win mark. He also enhanced his status as the Spring-Ford mat program's all-time win leader. ... Saturday's AAA action begins at 9 a.m. with semifinals and fourth-round consolations. Consi semifinals follow at 11:30 a.m. The Parade of Champions at 6:45 precedes medal matches at 7 p.m.