Times Union Center has become a comfortable venue for Zach Lawrence, a Duanesburg sophomore already making his fourth trip to the New York state wrestling championships.
He nearly exited Friday as quickly as he arrived.
Lawrence, the fifth seed in the Division II 145-pound class, was on his back early in an opening-round match against Derick Stowell, a senior from Gouverneur (Section X).
By the time he got back to his feet, Lawrence, a three-time Section II champion, was down 5-0.
The match was over shortly thereafter. Lawrence pinned Stowell with 20 seconds still remaining in the first period. He then beat the No. 4 seed, Dustin Joy of Lyndonville (Section V), to advance to Saturday morning's semifinals for the first time.
"I was on my back. I was scared," Lawrence said of his first match. "I was like, 'Oh, I came all this way, and I might get beat in the first round!' I got up, and as soon as I got neutral, I said, 'I've got to come back. I can't give up,' and kept going."
Wrestlers can take nothing for granted, even for an athlete the caliber of Lawrence, who will "end up probably our most decorated high school wrestler at Duanesburg," according to coach John Conway.
"He came back with high intensity," Conway said.
Lawrence has been coming to states since 2014, the final year of legendary coach Joe Bena, when he got a wild-card at 99 pounds. He has advanced as section champ the past three years, and has reached the podium (top six) the past two Februarys.
He is beginning to know the arena as well as some of the security guards, and it certainly helps to have a strong legion of parents and former wrestlers on hand.
"It started when I was a little kid," Lawrence said. "Me and my dad would go everywhere. We've been to tournaments where there's 30 mats, and they could have thrown another 30 in. I'm used to the big environment, lot of people. I have tons of friends here supporting me, family and a lot of mentors."
Lawrence showed his following a lot of resolve Friday.
Tied 5-5 heading into the third period of his quarterfinal, he was awarded stalling point and managed an escape in a 7-5 decision against Joy. The match was stopped several times because Joy developed a nose bleed.
"That was getting on me because some kids are sucking a lot of weight, don't have energy," said Lawrence, who has had no problem making weight. "If they're getting a bloody nose, they're getting some wind under them and they're coming out stronger each time because they're getting more oxygen in them and they're not gassing out as quick."
Lawrence grinded out the win to force a rematch with top-seeded Tanner Cook of Central Valley Academy (Section III).
Cook defeated Lawrence 13-4 earlier this season at the Eastern States Tournament.
"I was hoping I'd see him in the finals maybe," said Lawrence, whose seed was elevated from No. 6 when the fifth seed dropped out, "but I'll see him in the semis. I'll wrestle tough."
He certainly won't be uncomfortable in the environment.
"To Zach, it's like another day at a wrestling tournament," Conway said. "I like where Zach is right now. That was a big win. The quarterfinals in this tournament is big. Now he can get a good night's sleep and see how much higher up his dreams can go."
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