The Millville High School wrestling team hasn't reached the playoffs since 1997.
Ed Shockley, a junior on the current team, was 2 years old.
"We're kind of using that as motivation," Shockley said. "We have the potential to make a run in the playoffs. It's not every year that we have the opportunity to do this, so we have to make the most of it and run with it."
The Thunderbolts are one of seven area teams that will wrestle today on opening night of the state team sectionals.
Two more - Southern Regional and St. Augustine Prep - are top seeds in their respective groups and have byes into Wednesday's semifinals.
Shockley and company had a rare Sunday practice for some last-second fine-tuning.
"Usually you want that Sunday off just to relax a little bit," Shockley said. "But it's a good feeling knowing that we're in the playoffs and that not every team has this opportunity."
Millville, which is ranked ninth in The Press Elite 11, is seeded fifth in South Jersey Group IV and will wrestle at fourth-seeded Toms River North at 7 p.m.
Keith Mahoney (23-3 at 138 pounds) and Rico Rivera (23-3 at 145) anchor Millville in the middleweights. Shockley (24-2 at 195) and Obi Kali (23-4 at 220) lead a talented group of upperweights.
The Millville-Toms River North winner will advance to Wednesday's semifinal against second-seeded Clearview Regional.
The winner of that likely would face a showdown with top-seeded Southern, which is No. 2 in the Elite 11, in the sectional final Friday.
Southern has won back-to-back S.J. Group IV titles and seven of the last eight.
Former state and Beast of the East placewinner Zach Wilhelm leads the Rams. Southern has an area-best seven wrestlers in The Press' individual rankings.
Billy Ward and Buena Regional have plenty of experience this time of year but will see some new faces this time around.
The Chiefs, who are 10th in the Elite 11, lost in back-to-back S.J. Group II title matches to Delsea Regional but dropped to Group I this season.
"It's different," Ward said. "It's a change. If we're in the finals, it's not going to be against Delsea. It hasn't really made a difference as of now. No matter what you have to go out there and wrestle."
Buena is seeded fifth in S.J. Group I and will open at fourth-seeded Collingswood today at 7 p.m. As always, S.J. Group I goes through top-seeded Paulsboro, which is 11th in the Elite 11.
The Red Raiders have won 28 state Group I titles.
Ward is a three-time District 32 and Region 8 champ and leads the team along with two-time District 32 champ Dillan Berghof.
Ward has taken a forfeit in each of the team's two trips to the sectional finals as opponents have chosen instead to attack other parts of the lineup.
Ward would like nothing more than to get a match - and a win.
"That would be a nice way to go out," Ward said. "Especially for my senior year."
Ward's dad, Bill Ward, is a first-year head coach at St. Augustine.
The Hermits, No. 6 in the Elite 11, are the top seed in S.J. Non-Public A and will await the winner of the Bishop Ahr/Red Bank Catholic match Wednesday.
The Prep lost in the sectional final to CBA (seeded second this year) last season but will have home-mat throughout the sectional.
Hammonton and Lacey Township will each have their hands full in S.J. Group III.
Hammonton is seeded sixth and will travel to third-seeded Moorestown today. Fifth-seeded Lacey Township will wrestle at fourth-seeded Cherry Hill West.
Top seed Toms River South and second-seeded Timber Creek are each among the best in the state and favored to face off in the S.J. Group III final.
Barnegat is seeded fourth in S.J. Group II and will host fifth-seeded West Deptford looking for a bit of revenge.
West Deptford beat Barnegat 34-27 in the first round last season to end the Bengals' season.
St. Joseph is seeded fourth and Holy Spirit third in S.J. Non-Public B.
Camden Catholic is heavily favored to win the sectional.
St. Joseph will host fifth seed Gloucester Catholic today. The Wildcats are led by defending state placewinner, unbeaten heavyweight Roy Lucas.
Holy Spirit hosts sixth-seeded St. Rose.
The Spartans are looking to win a home playoff match for the second time in school history.
Sophomore Pat D'Arcy (26-3 at 106) leads the way. Brandon Bower (12-1 at 138), Ed Sooy (22-6 at 145) and Ray Ellis (21-6) have all been wrestling well.
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