MILL HALL - Before Joey Miller even hit the mats at Central Mountain High School, he set goals for himself.
His first year, he looked around the wrestling room, and saw the likes of Andrew and Dylan Alton, Jordan Rich, Tyler Buckwalter, Dylan Caprio and Zach Corl - all future 100-win athletes in the program.
His sophomore year, he peered over to his right and saw a talented classmate that was spending his first year in Bald Eagle Township. That wrestler was Brian Brill, who has the chance to be a two-time state champ after this weekend.
Central Mountain’s Joey Miller turns Punxsutawney’s Perry Arrington to the mat in the third period of Saturday’s PIAA Class AAA Northwest Regional in Altoona.
"When I started on varsity as a freshman, it's one of the first things I thought about. I wanted to reach 100 wins," said Miller, now a senior and two-time state qualifier. Miller is one of four Central Mountain athletes -including classmates Brill and Dillon Gavlock and junior Blaze Buckwalter - that begin their trek toward a state title Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey.
One look into Miller's eyes, and you can tell this is serious business.
If you don't believe that, just ask Doug Buckwalter.
The head coach has been watching his 138-pounder grow up in front of his eyes.
"You never saw any change of expression in his face from the start of the tournament until the end, even though Joey lost that first match," he said. "That confidence means a big deal."
Miller got that sweet taste of Hershey from last year's PIAA Class AAA championships.
Sure, it wasn't the result he would have liked. Heck, he's the first one to admit that, losing back-to-back matches to South Western's Cameron Throckmorton and North Penn's Tyler Romano.
Thoughts of what could have been, and what could happen the following year.
That's what flowed through the senior's mind last week at the PIAA Class AAA Northwest Regional.
The senior lost his opening match to General McLane's Tim Wheeling, 7-0.
One more loss, and his scholastic wrestling career was over.
Along with those thoughts about Hershey, in addition to hitting that 100-win plateau.
"Last year, my goal at the beginning of the season was to make it to states," Miller said. "This year, my goal at the beginning was to place at states. It was good that I made it there, but I didn't win a match. This year, I want to go there and prove that I belong down there."
That's when Miller made his regional run.
Clipped St. Marys Sam Miller, 2-0. Decked Punxsutawney's Perry Arrington 20 seconds into the third period. Defeated Westmont's Ian Helsel in a rematch of the previous week's district championship. Knocked off local rival, Bald Eagle Area's Matt Dillon, 11-8, to punch his ticket.
"After looking at what I did, it shows that if you lose one, you are definitely not out of the tournament," Miller said. "At states, you only need to win two matches to place, and that's my goal. I am looking to have a good tournament, and leave it all on the mat."
Four straight wins, and in the process, accomplishing one of his life-long goals.
The win over Dillon was Miller's 100th. He is 100-66 as a four-year starter on the varsity squad, and became the 10th wrestler at CM to hit the century milestone.
"It feels great when you can accomplish one of your long-time goals," Miller said. "There hasn't been many Central Mountain wrestlers to get 100 wins. When you look at that list, you see people like the Altons and Brill, wrestlers who have won state championships. That's pretty good company to be with. I am hoping that (Dillon) Gavlock gets that 100th win, too."
Miller starts out with Lasalle College High's Matt Cimato (42-2) in the opening round, and will face either Canon-Mac sophomore Solomon Chishko (40-1) or Shikellamy's Matt Neff (28-8) in the next round.
"Matt Cimato is pretty good, but you have to go out with the mind set that you can win," Miller said. "All you can do is wrestle hard and leave it on the mat. Yes, it's great to make it to states, but I'm not happy just to make it. I want to prove that I belong with those wrestlers."
Speaking of Gavlock, the senior battled back from his first loss last week to capture third-place honors at districts. At states, he'll start off his weekend with Central Bucks West's Seth Ehlo (38-1), a runner-up in the Southeast Regional. Ehlo lost to Lasalle's Casey Kent in that final.
In the next round, Gavlock tangles with either Northampton's Cole Sheptock (32-5) or Solanco's Joe Welk (38-6).
Gavlock, who missed nearly two months because of a preseason injury, is 21-1 on the year and is three wins away from 100. He's 97-39 at Central Mountain.
"He's had some setbacks in the past," Doug Buckwalter said of Gavlock. "Last year at the regional tournament, Dillon wasn't 100 percent healthy. This year, he started off kind of late with the injury. He had to overcome some adversity. As a result, it probably made him strong as a wrestler and as a person. When he gets into life, he'll know he can get through it."
The talk of the tournament is at 160 where returning state champs Brill and Kennard-Dale's Chance Marsteller are on opposite sides of the bracket.
Brill opens his day with West Chester Henderson's Charlie Grab (37-7), the third-placer from the Southeast Regional. Potential road blocks along the way for Brill are Governor Mifflin's Mike Shermot (30-3), Latrobe's Zack Zavatsky (39-2) and Norristown's Brett Harner (43-3). Marsteller, a sophomore, is undefeated in his high school career and is 39-0 this season.
"He's the type of person that can do just about anything at any time, but he realizes that he may need to narrow that down as the competition gets better," coach Buckwalter said of Brill. "He's done a tremendous job with that this year. You saw in some dual meets where he gives up a takedown and the opposing crowd would get excited. But when he gets into a match with top-ranked guys, he knows how to clean it up and do things well."
The fourth Wildcat is Blaze Buckwalter, a junior making his first trip to individual states - although he's been down the Giant Center three times for state duals.
The challenge is tough right off the bat with undefeated senior Chris Jastrzebski of Central Bucks West. He'll face off with either Easton's Tyler Greene (35-6) or Hempfield Area's Kyle Spangler (37-5) in the next round.
The CM junior was another Wildcat that lost his first match at regionals, but ripped off four straight wins to capture the state berth.
"We were looking prior to the district tournament about moving to 195 as an option," Doug Buckwalter said of his son. "At the last minute, we decided to stay at 182. We knew we had guys in our district that were tops in the region and state. Blaze, again, kept his composure at the regional tournament, even though he lost his first match. I don't think it really fazed him a whole lot. He knew his job.
"He knows what to expect in Hershey. Obviously, he's got a challenge right from the start with an undefeated wrestler and a champion from his regional. He has to realize that he belongs there and has that kind of talent to stay with wrestlers like that. Secondly, he just needs to relax and not hold back."
Thursday's action begins at 4 p.m. with preliminaries. A round of consolations will follow at approximately 7:15 p.m. The quarterfinals are 1 p.m. on Friday, with the semifinals and finals to be wrestled on Saturday.