Something was different about the wrestling in Hershey.

I figured that might be the case.

Western New York is hardly a bad place to grow up for the wrestling-inclined. The Empire State has long been included among the country’s best regarding the popularity and quality of high school wrestling.

No, this isn’t a column to bash my home state. Pennsylvania is just different — allow me to clarify.

LAST WEEK’S trip to Hershey was my first exposure to state-level high school wrestling in Pennsylvania.

I’ve covered the sport locally, but until Thursday, was confined to the 19 teams which populate District 9. The only state tournament I had ever attended was that of New York as an athlete.

And while Empire State wrestling cannot be discredited, there was an undeniable difference at the PIAA meet.

PENNSYLVANIANS WILL give plenty of anecdotal evidence as to why their high school wrestling trumps the rest of the United States.

But the numbers support that notion, too.

PA has produced the most NCAA Division I national qualifiers every year since at least 2015, according to FloWrestling’s annual “NCAA By The Numbers” report. PA natives accounted for 46 of this year’s national qualifiers, far ahead of runner-up Illinois (32) and fifth-place New York (21). For reference, only 11 states qualified 10 or more.

New York has ranked in the top eight every year since 2015 but has never been higher than sixth. Both it and PA have the same population advantage that benefits states like California and Illinois, but PA still qualified the most wrestlers per capita at last year’s tournament and Pennsylvanians scored more points per capita than any others.

Penn State — with its nine national championships in 11 years since head coach Cael Sanderson’s arrival — is the top prize for many recruits, but it spans beyond State College. Lehigh, Pittsburgh, Princeton and more excel at wrestling, and even PSAC schools such as Clarion, Lock Haven and Edinboro — which compete in Division II for most sports — wrestle in the Division I Mid-Atlantic Conference.

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Growing up in Pennsylvania isn’t necessary to be aware of the state’s wrestling obsession. But to an outsider, would it pass the eye test?

THE BIG 10 Network televises dual meets on Friday nights throughout the winter. It’s been the

premier college wrestling conference for some time and is again proving it at this year’s NCAA tournament.

While matside at Giant Center for the PIAA championships, although a high school competition, it brought to mind the Big 10’s Friday night duals. Not just the finals or semifinals — the whole thing.

The ability to chain wrestle at the PIAA tournament is important.

Athletes seamlessly wrestled into and out of dangerous situations. Ideal scoring positions disappeared, scrambles were prolonged and control was difficult to obtain.

The tournament’s depth stood out, as well, which wasn’t a surprise based on the two prior qualifying rounds. Some returning state medalists didn’t even make it out of their district and/or regional tournament to reach Hershey.

The District 9 finals in late February reminded me, from a quality-of-wrestling standpoint, of the Section 5 State Qualifier finals.

If comparing the two, that would put PA a week ahead of NY. Pennsy’s postseason progression goes from districts to regionals to states, whereas NY’s goes from sectionals to state qualifiers (coloquially known as super sectionals) to states.

NATIONAL tournaments in all-star-type settings are wrestled year-round from Virginia to North Dakota and beyond. They can match stars from separate states and create brackets that interscholastic tournaments cannot.

But there is no title more meaningful to a high school wrestler than that of state champion. And in Pennsylvania, that title carries some extra meaning.

It’s just different.

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