The Elite Eight.
That term is usually reserved for college basketball's March Madness.
However, this time it refers to the remaining area high school wrestlers who have qualified for the 77th annual state tournament, which gets under way Thursday afternoon inside the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus.
Three weeks ago, thousands of grapplers from across the Buckeye State all had one destination in mind as they began preparations for their respective sectional tournaments in three Divisions - I, II, and III. There are only 672 individuals from 309 schools who achieved their goals.
The eight locals - all underclassmen - represent five schools and will all compete in Division III. Harrison Central, Monroe Central and Shadyside all have two entries. Martins Ferry and Union Local each have one.
The Huskies are represented by sophomore Brandon White (113) and junior Hunter Pizzino (132). Making the trip from Woodsfield are junior Rodney Richter (120) and sophomore Tanner Potts (220). The Tigers' duo includes freshman Greg Quinn (106) and sophomore Brett Kahl (138). The Purple Riders' Jonathan Bodkin (285) and Jets' Matt McFarland (170) round out the local representatives.
Only one of the eight has appeared on the 'big' stage, that being Richter, who qualified for the state tournament last year when competing at 113 pounds. He was two-and-out.
"Until you get there and walk out onto the mat, you can't believe it," he said after winning his third straight Barnesville sectional title two weeks ago. "It's an awesome feeling, but I want to do better this time around."
Richter, who finished fourth in the Heath District last week, is 33-8. He reached the semifinals before being pinned by Grandview Heights sophomore Brendan Fitzgerald. He bounced back with a victory in the consolation semifinals, but dropped a 12-3 nod to Sandy Valley senior Joe Newman, whom he defeated in the championship quarterfinals, in the third-place bout.
He faces a tough task in the first round as he is paired with Milan Edison junior Evan Cheek, who is a marvelous 54-1 and finished fourth at 106 during last winter's Div. II state tournament. Cheek is the Bowling Green District titlist. There are four other state-placewinners at that weight.
Potts, who finished third at Heath, is now 36-6. He, too, advanced to the district semifinals before bowing to then-undefeated Gahanna Columbus Academy's Dan Jones, 5-4. Potts then earned his bronze medal by decisioning Pleasant's Quinton Johnson (12-7) and pinning Mount Gilead's Mike Mollohan (4:10).
He drew Gates Mills Hawken senior Alex Stottler, who is 37-4. With a pair of wins, Potts could get another shot at Jones, who was runnerup at Heath and is matched with Wellsville junior Seth Bloor (35-4) in the first round. There is only one returning state-placewinner in the weight class.
"Rodney and Tanner really stepped up their games," Monroe Central head coach Robert Muntz said following district competition. "This is Rodney's second year at state, but Tanner was injured last year and couldn't compete. So, he has done really well this year."
After winning the team title at the Sandy Valley sectional, Harrison Central took eight individuals to Heath, but only two survived. However, head coach Bill Bryant couldn't be happier.
"We've got two going after not sending one last year," he allowed. "I'm really happy for these two kids. They've worked hard and deserved it. There were a couple of others that we could've had advance, but that matches didn't fall our way."
Pizzino is headed to Columbus as a district runnerup as he dropped a tough, 2-1, overtime decision to Garaway senior Jesse Blake, whom he had beaten 3-1, also in overtime, in the sectional finals.
"Hunter needs to get a little more offensive," Bryant explained. "That's something that we will work on in practice."
Pizzino is paired with Tontogany Ostego junior Trent Soto, who is 43-4 and finished third in the Bowling Green District and was a state qualifier a year ago. A win would advance the Huskies' grappler to a quarterfinal with 2012 champion and three-time placer Sam Gross, of Beachwood.
White, who placed fifth at the Ron Mauck OVAC Tournament in January, has turned it on after that event, according to Bryant.
"I think Brandon has only lost a couple of matches since then," he said of White, who is 26-10. "He's really come on strong since the OVAC." He won the sectional and was third at Heath.
White will meet Troy Christian freshman Michael Sergeant, 36-8, in the first round. Sergeant was a runnerup at the Troy District. There are five returning state-placewinners in the weight class, including defending champion Jake Speiss, of Delta, who is a spotless 45-0 as a sophomore.
Quinn will be seeking to duplicate the impressive performance of older brother Alex, who captured a state title last winter at 152 pounds. So far, the younger Quinn is an impressive 42-2 but got locked into a tough bracket this week.
He advanced to the semifinals, but dropped a 11-10 scorefest to Johnstown Northridge junior Jake Adkins (46-4).
The Ron Mauck OVAC Tournament runnerup, Barnesville sectional champ and Heath District runnerup, is matched with Akron Manchester sophomore Joey Bowen, who is 40-6 and was seventh in last year's state tournament, defeating Adkins, 13-2. Also in Quinn's bracket are two other returning state-placers.
"Greg has had a very fine season for a freshman," Shadyside head coach Sean Grinch offered. "He lost a tough match in the (district) finals to a very good kid. It was a very good match that he came up a point short in.
"We'll get back in the (wrestling) room this week and work on a few things and get ready for this week," Grinch noted.
Kahl, who came up a win short of the state last year as a freshman, punched his ticket when he decisioned Barnesville's Hobie Howiler in the consolation semifinals at Heath. He then pinned East Knox's Noah Phillips to secure the bronze medal.
"I'm so happy for Brett," Grinch said. "He's worked so hard this year, and it paid off."
Kahl, now 34-12, will meet Massillon Tuslaw junior Chance Marthey, 48-7, in his first match. There are two returning state-place winners in his weight class, one in his half of the bracket.
Bodkin, the Ron Mauck OVAC Tournament and Barnesville sectional champion, advanced to the Heath District finals before running into defending state champion Patrik Garren, of Columbus Bishop Ready. Garren, who has already committed to Division I University of Pennsylvania, won with a first-period pin.
"Jonathan has wrestled very well all year," Martins Ferry head coach Chas Yoder said. "He won several tournaments, but ran into a defending state champion who is very good."
The Purple Riders' heavyweight, who tips the scales at a light 225, is an impressive 40-2. He will meet Norwalk St. Paul senior Connor Careless, who is 27-4 and was eighth in the state a year ago, in the first round. Garren and another returning state-placewinner are in the other half of the bracket, but Bodkin has Garaway's Ben Sexton, who was third at Heath and fourth in the state last year in his half.
McFarland, who is 39-12, placed fourth at Heath after fighting his way back through the consolation bracket. He lost in the championship quarterfinals to eventual champion Jake Datz, of Madison Plains, but won three matches to secure his trip to Columbus.
For his fourth-place finish, he drew Beachwood senior Ryan Harris, who is 43-3 and a three-time state-placer. He was champion at 160 last year, third at 138 as a sophomore and seventh at 125 as a frosh.
"Making it to the state tournament is quite an accomplishment for Matt," Union Local head coach Jim Bob Lewis, a 1995 state champion himself. "He was very disappointed in his OVAC Tournament. He's turned it up ever since and it's paid off."
Action begins Thursday at 3 p.m. with Division III first round bouts.