For Tyrone's A.J. Schopp, the PIAA Championships have on one hand been a showcase of his immense talent, and on the other hand, they've been a frustrating three-day weekend in which the gold has just been out of his reach.
That changes this week.
Schopp has been far better this year than he has in his three previous years, and only two wrestlers have gone the distance with him. He's more equipped this year to handle the pressure and the talented wrestlers standing in his way, so I'm picking him to win a state title after he fell in the finals, 4-3, as a freshman and as a sophomore.
Tyrone’s Ronnie Garbinsky will compete in the PIAA?state finals this weekend for the third time in his high school career.
It certainly won't be easy for Schopp. His stiffest test might come in the 135-pound semifinals against Wyomissing's returning state champion and two-time finalist Nick Hodgkins. This is a good case for the wrestlers to be seeded rather than a pre-determined regional finish pairings format, because they should be wrestling in the finals.
Anyway, Schopp will have the stuff to beat Hodgkins, and then he'll exorcise his finals demons by beating Montoursville's unbeaten Luke Frey. If those things happen, he should be voted the Outstanding Wrestler.
Schopp will be one of three area champions and one of four finalists. Schopp's 130-pound teammate, Ronnie Garbinsky, has had his own state tournament frustration, losing in the semifinals in his two previous trips, but he should win gold, as should Penn Cambria 112-pound Evan Link.
Garbinsky, who like Schopp has shown a marked improvement from last year, will come up against Boiling Springs' Joe Spisak in the semifinals before Round 2 against Shady Side Academy's Frank Martellotti. Spisak ruined Schopp's run to a rematch with Keystone Oaks' Anthony Zanetta, so that will certainly keep Garbinsky focused on the task at hand.
Garbinsky clamped on to Martellotti in the regional finals last week, and he wasn't letting go. Schopp did the same thing to Martellotti in the regional finals when they were freshman 103-pounders, and then Martellotti adjusted and stayed away from Schopp's tilt in the state finals. So, like last week, it won't be easy for Garbinsky as he wins gold, but it shouldn't be easy in a rugged tournament like this.
Penn Cambria has never had a state champion, and Link was within striking distance of achieving that in the third period against North Star's Nick Roberts in last year's 103-pound finals, but Roberts put Link on his back and won, 4-1.
Link suffered a controversial regional semifinals loss to Shady Side's Phillip Elias last week, but that should only serve as more motivation for the Panther junior. Coach Todd Niebauer leaped out of his seat when Zak Newton pinned Fort Cherry's Gary Kiefer in the regional semifinals.
Wonder what his reaction will be when Link does win gold. Evan's brother, Nathan, fell in the state finals his senior season, and his other brother, Ryan, suffered a controversial loss in the semifinals the next year. Yeah, it will be a wild celebration.
Central Cambria's Phil Steinberg ran into a buzzsaw in Schuylkill Valley's Colin Shober in last year's finals, and it says here he'll manage to get a rematch with Shober. Unfortunately for Steinberg, the result will be similar. Shober will beat him again in the finals.
Others like Portage's Shawn Perich and Newton could make a run at the finals, because both of them are unpredictable. Perich is so unorthodox, he could knock off some people. Newton has the calm temperament to handle the craziness of the tournament.
In Class AAA, Altoona's T.J. Brant was beaten by Clearfield's Christian Stone in the Northwest Regional finals, but he could make a finals run also in what looks to be a wide open 103-pound weight class.
Anything can happen in Hershey, and it often does, which leads to the destruction of my state picks.
103 POUNDS: Finalists: Nick Roberts, North Star vs. Brad Farley, Bermudian Springs. Champion: Roberts. Comment: Roberts will continue to roll through the postseason.
112 POUNDS: Finalists: Randy Cruz, Bethlehem Catholic vs. Evan Link, Penn Cambria. Champion: Link. Comment: Link could get another shot at Shady Side Academy's Phillip Elias in the finals.
119 POUNDS: Finalists: Geoff Alexander, Shady Side Academy vs. Arty Walsh, Juniata. Champion: Walsh. Comment: Wow, Walsh and Reynolds' Mason Beckman in the same bracket.
125 POUNDS: Finalists: Tyler Small, Delone Catholic vs. Dave Makara, Burrell. Champion: Small. Comment: Small has an 8-0 win over Juniata's returning runner-up Zach Beitz on his resume.
130 POUNDS: Finalists: Ronnie Garbinsky, Tyrone vs. Frank Martellotti, Shady Side Academy. Champion: Garbinsky. Comment: Boiling Springs' Joe Spisak looms in the semifinals for Garbinsky.
135 POUNDS: Finalists: A.J. Schopp, Tyrone vs. Luke Frey, Montoursville. Champion: Schopp. Comment: Westmont Hilltop's Trevor Kushner or Claysburg-Kimmel's Cole Claar could break up Frey's run.
140 POUNDS: Finalists: Colin Shober, Schuylkill Valley vs. Phil Steinberg, Central Cambria. Champion: Shober. Comment: Steinberg will get a big semifinal win over Greenville's Cody Copeland.
145 POUNDS: Finalists: Aaron Fry, Muncy vs. Jordan Moss, Sharon. Champion: Moss. Comment: C-K's Corey Aungst is wrestling well, and could continue his run in Fry's bracket.
152 POUNDS: Finalists: Tyler Hain, Warrior Run vs. Travis McKillop, Burrell. Champion: Hain. Comment: Look out for Charleroi freshman phenom Cody Wiercioch, whose name I'll have trouble spelling for the next three years.
160 POUNDS: Finalists: Eric Hess, Benton vs. Dirk Cowburn, Coudersport. Champion: Cowburn. Comment: Cowburn wins battle of returning state champions.
171 POUNDS: Finalists: Lewendo Teague, Sharon vs. Matthew Cunningham, Shady Side Academy. Champion: Cunningham. Comment: Teague is in a very tough bracket with Nathaniel Brown and Dakota Deslauriers.
189 POUNDS: Finalists: Stephen Ceremuga, Commodore Perry vs. Travis Chesla, Towanda. Champion: Ceremuga. Comment: I was tempted to pick Penn Cambria's Zak Newton here.
215 POUNDS: Finalists: Brian Hooks, Commodore Perry vs. Brian Beattie, Burrell. Champion: Beattie. Comment: Beattie finished fourth at the weight last year.
285 POUNDS: Finalists: John Rizzo, Richland vs. Joe Chittester, Ridgway. Champion: Chittester. Comment: Expect this one to go to the tiebreaker.
OUTSTANDING WRESTLER: A.J. Schopp, Tyrone.
TEAM CHAMPION: Shady Side Academy. Comment: I know, but I have to get this pick right some time.
103 POUNDS: Finalists: Austin Miller, Hempfield vs. Jordan Conaway, New Oxford. Champion: Conaway. Comment: Altoona's T.J. Brandt could stop the veteran Conaway from his finals run.
112 POUNDS: Finalists: Corey Keener, Blue Mountain vs. Jimmy Gulibon, Derry. Champion: Gulibon. Comment: Keener gave Bellefonte's Tom Traxler his only loss, 3-2.
119 POUNDS: Finalists: Anthony Marino, Liberty vs. Nico Megaludis, Franklin Regional. Champion: Megaludis. Comment: Megaludis beat Marino, 9-3, on his way to the 112-pound title last season.
125 POUNDS: Finalists: Zachary Horan, Nazareth vs. Mitchell Port, Bellefonte. Champion: Port. Comment: Port has weathered all kinds of challenges this season, and he'll do it again.
130 POUNDS: Finalists: Steve Spearman, McDowell vs. Tyler Buckman, Central Mountain. Champion: Spearman. Comment: Easton's Mitchell Minotti could knock off Buckman in semis.
135 POUNDS: Finalists: Shawn Greevy, Cumberland Valley vs. Josh Dziewa, Council Rock South. Champion: Dziewa. Comment: Dziewa will have to get through Central Mountain's Jordan Rich.
140 POUNDS: Finalists: Mark Hartenstine, Easton vs. Josh Kindig, Blue Mountain. Champion: Kindig. Comment: Kindig rolled though the tournament last year, and he'll do it again.
145 POUNDS: Finalists: Andrew Alton, Central Mountain vs. Aaron McKinney, West Allegheny. Champion: Alton. Comment: Alton has a tough bracket, but he'll handle with ease.
152 POUNDS: Finalists: Dylan Alton, Central Mountain vs. Zack Shannon, Kiski Area. Champion: Alton. Comment: Alton's toughest test could come in the quarters against Jayshon Wilson.
160 POUNDS: Finalists: Mark Havers, Bradford vs. Marshall Peppelman, Central Dauphin. Champion: Peppelman. Comment: Peppelman beat Havers, 8-0, in last year's finals.
171 POUNDS: Finalists: Kenny Courts, Central Dauphin vs. Tristian Warner, Cumberland Valley. Champion: Courts. Comment: Courts lost to Jake Kemerer, 4-2, in last year's finals.
189 POUNDS: Finalists: Michael Pollard, Corry vs. Jamie Callender, Council Rock North. Champion: Callender. Comment: Believe it or not, Callender beat Pollard, 9-4, during the season.
215 POUNDS: Finalists: Nate Gaffney, Connellsville vs. Spencer Myers, Selinsgrove. Champion: Gaffney. Comment: St. Marys' Sean Sadosky will provide big test for Myers in semifinals.
285 POUNDS: Finalists: Evan Craig, Abington Heights vs. Zach Corl, Central Mountain. Champion: Craig. Comment: Corl is good, but Craig is much better.
OUTSTANDING WRESTLER: Dylan Alton, Central Mountain.
TEAM CHAMPION: Central Mountain. Comment: The Wildcats did wins the Duals, but they'll win this week.
LAST WEEK'S PICKS RECORD: 14 out of 29 in Southwest Regional Class AA, 18 out of 29 in Northwest Regional Class AAA.
OVERALL PICKS RECORD: 93 out of 148.