Juniata captured the District 6 Class AA Tournament title last week in its first year in the district. Westmont Hilltop will push Central Mountain for the Class AAA title in its first year since moving up from Class AA.
Now, is it Somerset's turn to win the District 5 Tournament after moving from District 6? The Eagles won the Thomas Subaru Tournament title at Bedford without even having a finalist, so it appears they would be the favorites to win this season.
Northern Bedford finished in fourth place in the Thomas Tournament team standings. Bedford has won four straight District 5 titles, and it beat Somerset twice in dual meet competition, but the Bisons placed sixth in their own tournament, and this year's tournament seems more up for grabs than any other year. Somerset and Meyersdale have more No. 1 seeds than Bedford.
"If you go by straight seeding, Somerset would be the favorite," Bedford coach Brian Creps said. "They would be followed by NBC and then Bedford. If we wrestle well, I would expect us to be right in the mix. We feel our strength of competition has prepared our kids to wrestle well this weekend."
A big possible strike against Northern Bedford is the Panthers will likely be missing their best wrestler. Unbeaten 215-pounder and returning district runner-up Joel Suter (19-0) has missed all of the February matches due to mononucleosis. Suter, a No. 1 seed, was not cleared at a Monday appointment to wrestle. He has another appointment today.
"He's been checked once, and it doesn't sound good," NBC coach Jan Clark said. "The biggest loss is for him. It's nice to look at the team, but more importantly, it's an individual thing. It's going to be tough on him. It's just the way our season has been going on. I told told him life isn't fair. You have to feel for him.
"If I was sure Joel was wrestling, I'd feel more comfortable about the team race. I think we have a legitimate shot. If guys step up, I'm sure we have a good shot at it. We've had a good week of practice. We've had some guys sick, but we've been working hard."
The tournament begins at 5 p.m. Friday at Windber High School with the preliminaries. A quarterfinal round will follow at around 6, and the first day ends with a consolation round. Wrestling resumes at 10 a.m. Saturday with semifinals. The consolation finals are set for 6 p.m., and the championship finals will follow at 7.
The top three at each weight class qualify for next week's Southwest Regional Tournament.
Bedford will be at full strength when the district tournament starts. Senior Brian Gibbons (30-3), a two-time District 5 champion, was out of the Latrobe match because the referee ruled he had a skin problem. But, Creps says there's no problem, and he'll be wrestling this weekend.
"He has been wrestling very well this weekend, and we expect him to keep the ball rolling," Creps said. "I had never met the official before. Brian wrestled the entire PIAA Team Championships with the same scar on his chest, was checked by doctors, and they had no issue. But the referee has final say in all situations."
The Bisons' only other No. 1 seed is 103-pounder Ryan Easter. Garret Thomas (112) and Jacob Krupa (215) are their only second seeds. Thomas is seeded behind North Star's former state champion Nick Roberts.
"I believe we will react in a very positive manner," Creps said. "The PIAA State Duals, King of the Mountain and Thomas Tournament have provided learning experiences that have prepared our kids for the weekend."
The Panthers have two other No. 1 seeds in Willie Sollenberger (152) and defending champion Dan Sollenberger (189) and two second seeds in Mason Replogle (103), Drew Gartland (130) and defending champion Quinton Hixson (285). Preston Albright is a returning champion, but he's seeded fourth at 171.
"The only bad seed I think is at 171," Clark said. "We deserved the other seeds we got. Some of the guys are better if they don't have the top seeds. They won't have that pressure on them."
Ridge has a top seed in returning district champion Tyler Dibert (160) and a second seed in returning runner-up Shane Pfaunmiller (125). The Lions haven't wrestled since coming in eighth in the Thomas Tournament nearly a month ago
"We are ready for the tournament," Ridge coach Greg Lazor said. "For the first time all year, we have our full lineup and are excited to see what we can do. We haven't wrestled in awhile so the boys are anxious to wrestle other people. We used this time to train harder than others and heal some wounds, and it hopefully it was a blessing."
No matter how teams did during the regular season, they're usually happy to get started on the postseason trail - one that might take them to the PIAA Championships.
"This is definitely what the kids wait for all year," Lazor said. "This is the time of year legends are made. If you want your name to be talked about in the wrestling room for years to come, you start your legacy and districts and proceed."
"I always look forward to the PIAA individual state tournament series," Creps said. "This is when the best wrestlers get the spotlight. As you move from one qualifier to another and the competition gets more intense, the more enjoyable it is."