Looking down through the Southwest Regional Tournament weights, it's hard to imagine another Class AA regional with as many star-studded wrestlers in it.
Many of the wrestlers who make it through the loaded weights could win titles in Hershey next week. So, to win a title with so many challenges, including a crazy, cramped Friday time schedule, is quite an accomplishment.
After studying the weight closely, it appears from here that three area wrestlers will win titles if they're at their best. I'm picking Penn Cambria's Evan Link (112), Tyrone's Ronnie Garbinsky (135) and Portage's David Kephart (189) to claim titles and six others to make the finals.
Link will face a huge challenge in the finals against North Star's Nick Roberts.
Roberts beat Link in the Southwest Regional finals and the state finals two years ago, but they haven't wrestled in-season since. Link beat Roberts in the Super 32 Tournament before this season started. They would have likely met in the Thomas Subaru Tournament finals, but Roberts was out with an illness.
Link is bigger and better than he was as a sophomore, but then again Roberts probably is too. Given that he did beat Roberts in the preseason, it's a little easier to pick Link.
The Penn Cambria senior there are potholes in this tournament. He seemed ready to make the finals last season, but Shady Side Academy's Phillip Elias knocked him off, 4-3, in the semifinals and beat Westmont Hilltop's Josh Polacaek, 5-4, in the finals.
Garbinsky found himself embroiled in some controversy last year when a Burrell assistant coach pointed his finger and ridiculously accused him of using a jujitsu move on Jeremy Landowski in the quarterfinals. Landowski injured his shoulder in the bout and injury defaulted in 3:17.
It appears here that Garbinsky will wrestle Landowski in the finals. The Burrell side will likely be more than a little pumped up, but it won't matter. Garbinsky should handle Landowski with ease again. He was leading Landowski, 8-1, at the time of the default.
Kephart made the finals as a sophomore 171-pounder before he lost to United's Tyler Capitosti, and he lost to Shady Side state champion Matthew Cunningham in the semis last year. The explosive Mustang should make the finals again, and he'll beat Southmoreland's Jordan Kitta, but Northern Bedford's Dan Sollenberger shouldn't be counted out.
Bedford's Ryan Easter (103) and Brian Gibbons (171) are picks to make the finals, as are Central Cambria's undefeated duo of Ben Rager (125) and Tony Risaliti (152), Claysburg-Kimmel's Cole Claar (130) and Corey Aungst (145) and NBC's unbeaten Joel Suter (215). But, they'll all come back against stiff competition in the finals.
Burrell, which had five District 7 champions, is the favorite to win the regional title, but it will get tested by Shady Side Academy, Juniata and Northern Bedford.
For those who can make the Friday marathon, get some rest and get ready for some rugged wrestling.
Here's the rest of the picks:
103 POUNDS: Finalists: Jason Nolf, Kittanning vs. Ryan Easter, Bedford. Champion: Nolf. Comment: It's going to be tough to beat Nolf, but Easter could do it.
112 POUNDS: Finalists: Nick Roberts, North Star vs. Evan Link, Champion: Link. Comment: Link is better quipped to beat Roberts than he was as a sophomore.
119 POUNDS: Finalists: Jimmy Gulibon, Derry vs. Phillip Elias, Shady Side Academy. Champion: Gulibon. Comment: Claysburg-Kimmel's James Dodson will get chance to knock off returning champ Elias in semis.
125 POUNDS: Finalists: Geoff Alexander, Shady Side Academy vs. Ben Rager, Central Cambria. Champion: Alexander. Comment: Rager will certainly take a shot at playing spoiler.
130 POUNDS: Finalists: Dave Makara, Burrell vs. Cole Claar, Claysburg-Kimmel. Champion: Makara. Comment: Claar will get a big test from Shady Side's returning runner-up Anthony Elias in semis.
135 POUNDS: Finalists: Ronnie Garbinsky, Tyrone vs. Jeremy Landowski, Burrell. Champion: Garbinsky. Comment: Garbinsky's biggest challenge might come in the semis against Jeannette's Michael DePalma.
140 POUNDS: Finalists: Travis Shaffer, Derry vs. Richard Brydon, Forest Hills. Champion: Shaffer. Comment: Penn Cambria's Justin Miller could meet Shaffer in semifinals.
145 POUNDS: Finalists: Zach Beitz, Juniata vs. Michael Innes, Chartiers-Houston. Champion: Beitz. Comment: Claysburg's Corey Aungst is capable of beating Innes, who is a returning tournament runner-up.
152 POUNDS: Finalists: Nick Carr, South Fayette vs. Tony Risaliti, Central Cambria. Champion: Carr. Comment: Northern Bedford's Willie Sollenberger could challenge Risaliti in the semifinals.
160 POUNDS: Finalists: Cody Wiercioch, Charleroi vs. Travis McKillop, Burrell. Champion: Wiercioch. Comment: McKillop is in a tough bracket that includes Chestnut Ridge's Tyler Dibert.
171 POUNDS: Finalists: Brian Gibbons, Bedford vs. Dakota DesLauriers, Burrell. Champion: DesLauriers. Comment: Forest Hills' Christopher Gallaher will test DesLauriers in semifinals.
189 POUNDS: Finalists: David Kephart, Portage vs. Jordan Kitta, Southmoreland. Champion: Kephart. Comment: Northern Bedford's Dan Sollenberger could make this an all-area matchup.
215 POUNDS: Finalists: Brian Beattie, Burrell vs. Joel Suter, Northern Bedford. Champion: Beattie. Comment: Suter hasn't practiced much since coming back, so I'm not sure if he's ready for Beattie.
285 POUNDS: Finalists: John Rizzo, Richland vs. Jeff Tarley, Beth-Center. Champion: Rizzo. Comment: Tarley beat Rizzo in overtime in last year's regional finals, but Rizzo won the state title.
TEAM CHAMPION: Burrell. Comment: Will battle with Shady Side Academy for team title.
LAST WEEK'S DISTRICT 5 AND 6-AAA RECORD: 38 of 60 correct (20 of 30 in District 6 AAA, 18 of 30 in District 5)
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org