Ever since he joined the Pleasant Valley wrestling team as a freshman in 2009, big things have been expected of Sean Bianco.
The then 103-pounder was destined for greatness and didn't disappoint in his first varsity season, as he racked up 20 wins and was a regional qualifier.
The following year he bumped up to the 112-pound weight class and grinded out 25 wins on his way to placing sixth at districts for the second consecutive year.
Bianco then took the next step in his evolution this past season. And it was a mighty big one.
The 113-pound junior finished 2011-12 with a remarkable 41-4 record and defeated all challengers in his quest for District 11 and Northeast Regional gold. His great season, along with his dramatic improvement from the previous two years, has earned him the TIMES NEWS Wrestler of the Year award.
"It is a big accomplishment for me," said Bianco, who finished the regular season with a 34-2 mark. "It was one of my top goals coming into this season. It feels great to be recognized as the best wrestler in the area."
While Bianco managed to win gold at both districts and regionals, his path to the top wasn't as smooth as one might think.
Heading into Pleasant Valley's dual match with Northampton late in the season, Bianco sat at 29-1 with his only loss coming at the Reno Tournament of Champions to this year's California state champion Isaiah Locsin (a 10-7 decision). Bianco dropped an 8-5 decision to the Konkrete Kids' Zach Valley (who eventually finished fifth at states) that day and came to a crossroad.
"I think the pressure had built up and somewhat got to him that match," recalled Pleasant Valley head coach Mark Getz.
"Sean wasn't used to being undefeated in the state of Pennsylvania and I think it took a toll on him. I pulled him aside afterward and told him to relax and take some time off. He got away for a few days, came back and wrestled very well the rest of the way."
Bianco remembered the conversation as well.
"As I was winning, I could feel the pressure building up," Bianco admitted. "Coach talked to me afterward and I realized that I wasn't the best. I think that loss got me refocused and I ended up going all the way to states without losing.
"I guess it's possible to go undefeated, but it may not be the best thing for you. You can get too cocky and I think that happened to me in the match with Valley. That loss put me back in my place. I never like to lose, but it turned out to be the best thing for me."
Following that match, Bianco would not lose again until the second round of the PIAA state tournament. Bianco exacted revenge on Valley in the district semifinal and won by a 5-3 decision. He would go on to defeat Stroudsburg's Guesseppe Rea 9-5 in the final to win district gold.
Bianco rode the momentum he had built up all the way through regionals. He won his first two matches by a combined score of 23-4 before dispatching of Rea once again. This time Bianco pinned Rea in 2:42.
"The rematch with Valley was big," Bianco said. "It was the semifinal and I used our previous match as motivation. It felt great to get some redemption.
"The two matches with Rea were great as well. We were both nervous in the district final, but I was determined to win. That win gave me a lot of confidence heading into the regional final because I knew I had just beaten him. Confidence can go a long way."
Unfortunately the state tournament didn't go quite as well as Bianco planned. Bianco received a tough draw and fell to two wrestlers who went on to finish third and fourth. Still, both were close matches that ended in a decision.
"Sean had a terrific season," said Getz. "He was one of the toughest kids on the team and is very physical on the mat."
While his performance at states wasn't his best, it will certainly provide Bianco with motivation as he heads into his senior season looking to take the final step in his high school career.
"Two of my goals will be to defend my district and regional titles," said Bianco. "There are only a few two-time district and regional champs in PV history and I would like to add my name to that list.
"I accomplished a lot this year, but next year I want to be standing on top of that podium out at Hershey."