Ehrin Lee has had a year to think about what it felt like to come one win shy of advancing to the state wrestling tournament, a year to think about coming so close that he could practically taste the famous chocolate that’s mass-produced in Hershey, where the meet is held.
Lee didn’t let that bitter defeat break him down, instead, he used it as motivation this season, and it paid off.
As a junior, he will be making his first trip the to the PIAA State Wrestling Championships, but his goals don’t end there.
He wants to place and be a top-eight 160-pounder in the state at Class AAA.
His journey started a season ago at the 2012 Class AAA Northwest Regional Tournament.
As a sophomore, in the 145-pound weight class, Lee entered the tournament with a 22-8 record and his sights set on a trip to Hershey.
He won his first bout by an 8-7 decision, but Bellefonte senior Leo Wortman sent him to the consolation bracket with a 9-1 major decision in Round 2.
Despite the loss, Lee still had a shot at a third-place finish and advancement to the state meet.
He made it to the third-place final with a 3-1 decision over McDowell’s Cody Nolan.
A win would have meant a date with states, but Lee came up short to Philipsburg-Osceola’s Logan Walstrom, a senior with a 37-2 record, who pinned Lee in the first round.
He didn’t like the taste that was left in his mouth after the fourth-place finish, and he said he used that experience to his benefit this season.
“It was definitely a motivation,” said Lee. “I wanted to improve from that.”
Improve he did.
He entered this year’s regional tournament with a 28-5 record and his mind geared specifically toward winning the tournament.
He got off to a fast start, pinning Bradford’s Dustin Coles at 2:04 in his first bout.
From there, he kept rolling.
His next challenger was Gavin Caprio, a 25-9 sophomore from Central Mountain, who had a bye in the first round.
Caprio’s free pass to the second round didn’t intimidate Lee, and the 160-pounder rolled right through him with a 6-1 decision and a spot in the championship round.
Lee’s opponent was Tyree Spearman, a 13-0 junior from McDowell and the wrestler who defeated Lee in the championship bout at the District 10 Tournament.
The match was very tight and there were some close calls that didn’t go in Lee’s favor, which resulted in a 3-2 loss to Spearman.
Although Lee was hoping for a victory, he felt good about the way he wrestled Spearman, and knew the second-place finish would mean he was heading to Hershey.
“My mindset was to win regionals,” said Lee. “Even though I lost to the kid (Spearman) who I lost to at districts, it was closing the gap, at least.”
Now, his focus is on the state tournament, and he says he is ready and looking forward to the opportunity.
“It feels pretty good,” said Lee. “Especially after last year. [I was] one place away from going to states, so I feel a sense of accomplishment.”
The eight best finishers at the state meet earn a medal, and Lee is anticipating the event and wants to be in that group of wrestlers.
“I’m feeling pretty excited,” said Lee. “I want to place in the top eight this year. I’d like to do that.”
It will certainly be a big stage for his first appearance at states, but Lee isn’t going to let it overwhelm him and said he’ll treat it like another day in the office.
“I’m just going to take it one match at a time,” said Lee. “It’s just like any other tournament, and there’s no difference, really.”
Lee’s quest for a state medal will begin on Thursday at the Giant Center, in Hershey, at 4 p.m.
His first bout will be against Abner Thompson, a 38-4 senior from Academy Park, which is located in Sharon Hill.