HERSHEY - Zack Beitz will be the first to tell you it's what he's waited for - and been working for - all his life.
Every wrestler in the Keystone State says that, of course - but only 28 get the chance to try each year. Only 14 get the chance to say it.
Here's what you can say to Beitz today: Welcome to the club.
Sentinel photos by JEFF?FISHBEIN
Juniata’s Zack Beitz, top, tries to turn Hughesville’s Kyle Barnes during the PIAA Class AA wrestling 145-pound championship match Saturday in Hershey. Beitz dominated Barnes in a 13-3 major decision. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com.
Beitz manhandled Hughesville's Kyle Barnes in the 145-pound final of the PIAA Class AA wrestling championships, winning the title by major decision, 13-3.
Beitz is just the second Juniata wrestler to take state gold, after Dave Hart in 1987 at 155 pounds. Only three wrestlers from the county have achieved the feat; East Juniata's Jay Hockenbroch captured the 167-pound crown in 1975.
Beitz looked skyward for a good bit of the credit for his success, which includes four state medals - a first for any Juniata wrestler.
"I've been praying for this day, and he blessed me to have it," Beitz said.
Beitz followed a long road to the top of the medal stand, one that began with his first state appearance in 2009. That trip included upset wins over Mason Beckman of Reynolds and returning state champion Luke Frey of Montoursville, putting the Indian frosh in the match of his life against a Wyomissing phenom named Arty Walsh - victim to Beitz two weeks prior in a district title match.
Walsh won that one, and became his school's first state champ. Beitz went two years before he was able to get past the state quarterfinals, get another opportunity to ascend to the top spot of high school wrestling's most hallowed podium.
"It was a little bit disappointing. I was so close to getting it," Beitz said. "But I mean, it was something to work toward. I had a taste of it. I knew that's what I wanted, so it gave me something to train for all through the offseason."
It was pretty obvious from the first whistle that no one - certainly not the unbeaten junior who won District 4 and Northeast Region titles. Beitz pursued Barnes with a passion, scoring three takedowns in the first period, cutting the Spartan grappler twice en route to a 6-2 lead.
A lot of state matches don't see eight points. This one had more to come.
"He just kept going, and I kept wrestling," Beitz said. "He kept plugging away, too. It didn't matter the score he kept coming and coming.
"I heard from previous (opponents), watched him a little bit. He was one that just kept going," Beitz continued. "We knew that he was going to keep coming."
While the offense never materialized for Barnes - who was stopped in his section as a freshman and failed to make the region a year ago - there was no lack of effort. Twice in the late stages of the match he had Beitz in a position that could have turned into a takedown.
Beitz relished the opportunity to fight off a challenge.
"I wrestle better when guys wrestle me," he said. "It's a little bit harder when guys try to slow me down. But when guys are moving, that's the kind of pace I like wrestling."
Coming off the medal stand, the first one there to stand beside Beitz was his brother Seth, now at Penn State - where Zack will wrestle next season. The two were inseparable when both were on the roster, and that family tradition has continued with younger brother Derek.
"My brothers, both Seth who'd come down from Penn State and help me out and Derek - I mean, he's willing to strap on the shoes when me and him go to practices. He's right there training with me," Zack said.
Watching from the stands was former Juniata coach Bob Hart, who mentored Beitz into the finals his first year. In his corner for this one were two former state medalists.
"I've got fantastic coaches that kept pushing me through. Just an excellent coaching staff comes in and helps," he said. "It makes you feel prepared for the tournament."
He may have to prepare for one more bout: Coming off the mat, he was approached about a possible invitation to the prestigious Dapper Dan postseason tournament in Pittsburgh.
"I'd be excited to wrestle for that," he said.
For now, Beitz is just soaking in the glory of his accomplishment.
"It was great fun just to be in the finals and to be here again. (It was) an unexplainable experience," he said. "It was fantastic the whole way through."