Before the Thomas Subaru Tournament started, many fans were looking forward to seeing a matchup of former state finalists in Penn Cambria's Evan Link and North Star's Nick Roberts.
They didn't get to see it because Roberts missed the tournament with an illness. That matchup would have to wait until somewhere else down the road.
Roberts, ranked second by Off The Mat and a two-time regional champ, and the third-ranked Link could meet on the postseason road in the finals of the Southwest Regional Tournament Saturday. Roberts beat Link in the regional finals and state finals two years ago, but they didn't wrestle last year. Link defeated Roberts, who was third in Hershey last year, in the Super 32 Tournament before this season started.
"Yeah, we have talked to Evan about taking it one match at a time and try not to look ahead to Roberts," PC coach Todd Niebauer said. "I love to see a great wrestling match and to have the opportunity to have two studs like those go at it can only be good for the sport and the fans.
"I know it is easy for me to say, but Evan has to look at that match like any other match he has wrestled this year. I think the key is to stay relaxed and wrestle the way he has all season."
Staying relaxed for Link and the 48 other area wrestlers who have qualified for the tournament will be kind of hard to do. The District 6 wrestlers have been waiting for two weeks for this tournament. If they place in the top five, they'll be heading to the PIAA Championships.
SW AA Tournament
Where: Cambria County War Memorial
Starts: Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.
Medal rounds: Finals, third, fifth-place bouts, 10:15 a.m. Saturday
What's at stake: Top five at each weight advance to the PIAA Championships
"The guys are very anxious to get rolling on Friday," Claysburg-Kimmel coach Dave Marko said. "It's been a long two weeks since they've last competed. We feel like we are ready and excited to try to take the next step up the ladder."
"We look forward to this time of the year," Bedford coach Brian Creps said. "It's when your best wrestlers get to stack up against the best in the area. There's no running. It's best against the best."
Everybody will be dealing with a different time schedule this year. Most of the wrestling will be completed on Friday because the Cambria County War Memorial has to be set up for a Johnstown Generals football game Saturday night.
The tournament begins at 9 a.m. Friday with the preliminaries. The quarterfinals are set for noon, and the semifinals will be wrestled at about 7 p.m. Three rounds of consolations will also be wrestled Friday. The consolation semifinals are 9 a.m. Saturday, and the championship, third and fifth-place finals are all set for 10:15 a.m.
"The first day is going to be a bear," Niebauer said. "I really am not a fan of the schedule at all, but I am hoping that by later on in the day, our guys may be able to use their conditioning to win the close matches. I feel that conditioning could play a big part."
"I don't think it's going to be that bad," Northern Bedford coach Jan Clark said. "An extra round is all it really is. Everybody has the same situation. It's not a problem at all."
Clark's team is coming off off a District 5 team title, and the Panthers could push tournament favorites Burrell, Shady Side Academy and Juniata for the regional team crown. The Panthers, led by district champions Matt Sollenberger (140), Willie Sollenberger (152), Dan Sollenberger (189), Joel Suter (215) and Quinton Hixson (285), will have nine wrestlers at the War Memorial.
"I'm excited about it," Clark said. "If we wrestle like we did last weekend, we'll have a good shot at getting a lot of kids out. I keep telling the kids win, lose or draw, the top five kids get out. We're ready for it."
The only returning champion among the area wrestlers is Tyrone senior Ronnie Garbinsky, the top-ranked 135-pounder by OTM who will be vying for his third regional crown.
"I think he's at the top of his game," Tyrone coach Blair Packer said. "There's only one way for him to lose, and that's to beat himself. I think he's going to be tough to beat this year."
Garbinsky won the 130-pound title last season with a 1-0 win over Shady Side Academy's Frank Martellotti. That was big, but so was the injury default win over Burrell's Jeremy Landowski in the quarterfinals.
A Burrell assistant coach pointed his finger and ridiculously accused him of using a jujitsu move on Landowski. Landowski is the District 7 champion and in the opposite bracket from Garbinsky this year.
"I don't get involved with that stuff," Packer said. "Their coaches were upset, and I thought that lacked class. The display was not called for."
While Garbinsky is a returning champ, Bedford 171-pounder Brian Gibbons and Portage 189-pounder David Kephart have finals experience. Both reached the finals as sophomores before losing and both are two-time state qualifiers. Gibbons took fourth at 152 last year, while Kephart was fourth at 171.
"His experience should get him through to the state tournament," Creps said of Gibbons. "There is three returning state placewinners in his bracket, so he'll have to be on top of his game to win."
C-K's Cole Claar (130) and Corey Aungst (145) placed third at the regional last season, while Ty Dively (125) was fourth. Dively is in the same bracket as Shady Side's Geoff Alexander, who will be going for his fourth regional title.
"Ty has struggled with him in the past," Marko said, "but this is a different Ty Dively than Alexander has faced in the past. Hopefully, that can show on the mat. But, we have to get to him first. Ty has two solid opponents to get to that point, and I don't want Ty looking past those tests."
Notes: Huntingdon's Kie Brown (119), Central Cambria's Tony Risaliti (152) and Suter all took fourth last year. Cambria Heights' Ryan Dupas (103), PC's Nick Szala (130), Huntingdon's Nick Marter (152) and Dan Sollenberger finished sixth. ... Derry Area's Jimmy Gulibon, a two-time state champion, won two Southwest Class AAA titles before Derry moved to Class AA. There are other state champions in the field in South Fayette's Nick Carr, Charleroi's Cody Wiercioch and Richland's John Rizzo.