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Three veterans and a newbie

Just because practice has dwindled down to a group of four - and just because those four are a day from competing on the state's biggest stage - doesn't mean the housekeeping chores are over.

And so, on Tuesday, Jesse Graham grabbed a broom, and David Pritz grabbed a mop, and the pair of wrestlers spent 15 minutes preparing the mats in Hernando's wrestling room for that evening's workout.

"I get to work you for one more day," coach Matt Smith barked at Pritz as he slowly polished the mat in front of him.

What happens after that day undoubtedly will define the season of these four wrestlers.

Senior Michael Combs, junior Brandyn Kuhn and Pritz have all been this far before. Sophomore Jesse Graham is a rookie.

Smith has had a state finalist in 10 of his 11 years as coach. And with Pritz and Combs leading the way - both placed in the top five last year - there is a good chance he will have one this year.

Then again, there is no telling what might go down.

"It takes a lot of determination, and it takes a lot of hard work," Smith said, "and it takes a little bit of luck."

Each of the four has a different story.

Pritz, of course, is the natural. The son of a coach, the younger brother of two former state finalists, the older brother of two future Hernando wrestlers, he has dominated this season. The last time the senior lost was in last year's state tournament when, plagued by the flu and 9 pounds underweight, he finished fifth.

This year, he has been dominant, winning 44 straight matches. And, with the recent death of his grandfather, he has all the motivation he'll need.

"I won't be as nervous this time," said Pritz, who will compete at 189 pounds.

Combs (160) also is the latest branch in an impressive family tree. Father Bill has been an assistant coach at Hernando since the mid 1970s. Older brothers Charlie and Billy placed second and third at states, respectively. And after last season's third-place showing, Michael is looking to bring home a title to the Combs' household.

"It would be very big," Combs said, "because my brothers never won it."

Along with Kuhn (145), who placed fourth in the state as a sophomore, Hernando has three wrestlers who won't be surprised by the venue - 10 to 12 mats wrestling at once - or the atmosphere. One, however, will.

Graham placed third at 140 pounds at last weekend's regional, earning his first trip to state. "I've never been to a tournament like that," he said. "When I was young, I wrestled in tournaments, but never one that big."

Pritz, who placed second in the state as a sophomore, has been having fun with Graham all week.

"I've been joking with him, trying to make him nervous," Pritz said. "But he'll be all right. I don't think he gets nervous."

Combs, for one, doesn't put much stock into nerves.

"It feels like the same as every other tournament," he said.

It may very well feel that way, but with the best wrestlers in the state all competing for individual glory, this weekend's events will hardly be ordinary.

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