DADE CITY - Just going to the state wrestling tournament as a sophomore is a feat in itself. Pasco's Mike Cowell and John Clarke don't want this weekend to just be a sightseeing trip.
"This isn't anything but another tournament to me," said Clarke, who has a 26-12 record at 160 pounds. "It may be states, but I'm there to whup some butt."
For a young Pirates team, having a presence in Lakeland this week will be a motivation for next year and what the rest of the lineup can achieve.
Even though only Cowell and Clarke are competing in the state tournament, the Pirates had 12 wrestlers on the mats at Tuesday's practice, an encouraging turn for coach Mark DeAugustino.
"I think this is huge," said DeAugustino, who returns nearly all of his wrestlers for next season and said he expected at least two, if not more, to advance from regionals.
Cowell advanced from last week's regional by beating two wrestlers who had each beaten him twice this season.
He pinned one in the quarterfinals, then after losing in the semifinals, he faced Zephyrhills' Jeremy Wojda, who had beaten him in the district final. The winner was going to states, the loser going home, and Cowell prevailed in overtime.
"You're talking about a young man overcoming two opponents that had beat him twice," DeAugustino said. "For somebody to be able to do that, shoot, if you're going to hire somebody for a job, you want somebody who can overcome odds like that."
Cowell, who has a 22-12 record at 103 pounds and earned honorable mention All-Sunshine Athletic Conference honors, was surprised by his own success, even though DeAugustino had told him all season he was capable of making the state field.
"I should have listened to my coach more - I didn't think I was going to make it," Cowell said. "I knew I was close, so I just pushed extra hard and made it. I"m excited."
Clarke's advancing was less surprising for DeAugustino, who knew his 160-pounder had simply been stuck behind a strong wrestler in district champion David Pritz of Hernando, who is 44-4 as a sophomore.
"He's just getting tougher and tougher every day," he said. "He should have beaten everybody he beat, and then some. He should have been in the (region) finals, but he got caught twice (in the semifinals)"
Clarke quit wrestling midway through his freshman year but asked to return to the team this season. Now he can't imagine giving up the sport.
Both face long odds in Lakeland, with Cowell's opening-round match coming against Genesis Mercedes, a regional champ from Belle Glade who is 32-1. Clarke has a regional champ as well - and an undefeated one at that - in Richard Davis (42-0) of Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons.
DeAugustino stressed that they've prepared themselves as best they can, so if they lose against a tougher opponent, they shouldn't be disappointed with themselves.
"I just tell them that they've trained hard, they're ready for any opponent that steps onto the mat with you, no matter who he is," he said.
"Just wrestle, and good things will happen. The only reason you get beat is that you met a tougher kid that day."