When all the smoke has cleared at the PIAA Class AA Championships this week at the Giant Center, you'll probably see many of the same guys on the medals stand that were on the Southwest Regional Tournament podium Saturday.
The regional tournament is just that good.
It's a tournament in which nothing is a given. That is unless you're exceptional like Derry Area's two-time state champion Jimmy Gulibon, the top-ranked 119-pounder in the nation who destroys everything in his path.
But even returning state champions were losing. Richland's returning 285-pound state champ John Rizzo lost to Beth-Center's Jeff Tarley in the ultimate tiebreaker. Tarley beat Rizzo in overtime in the finals last year, but Rizzo won the state title the next weekend.
Charleroi's Cody Wiercioch won the state title as a freshman last season, but Burrell's Travis McKillop avenged his 2010 regionals loss to Wiercioch by beating him in overtime, 5-3, Saturday.
Five state champions came out of the Southwest last season - Tyrone's A.J. Schopp (135), South Fayette's Nick Carr (145), Wiercioch (152), Shady Side Academy's Matt Cunningham (171) and Rizzo - and as many or more could come out of it this year.
"I strongly feel it's the toughest region in the state," said Claysburg-Kimmel coach Dave Marko, whose five-man contingent finished second to Burrell. "If you look at some of the matches here not only in the finals but also matches just to be able to place. you're talking about some awfully, awfully good kids not moving on to Hershey."
It's too bad that the 189-pound title was decided on a ridiculous stall call on Portage's Dave Kephart in the ultimate tiebreaker with Southmoreland's Jordan Kitta. Kitta was trying to escape as he was heading for out of bounds, and Kephart was holding on to his leg.
It reminded me of the regional finals bout that was decided by a foot caution in overtime.
It's also too bad that they had to wrestle under the conditions they faced this past weekend. Most of the wrestling was done Friday. Heck, the most you're going to wrestle on the first day at Hershey is twice, and that's if you lose your first one.
Then there's the ice under a thin layer of football turf. It made everybody on it, including me, cold and hardened the mats.
I've said it before, but a tournament of that magnitude deserves a better venue like UPJ or Richland.
One of the surprises to this postseason has been Penn Cambria 152-pounder Tom Hanlon, an 11-loss guy during the regular season who finished second at the District 6 Tournament and fifth at the regional tournament.
"I try to preach to these kids, it's not about early success in your career," PC coach Todd Niebauer said. "You can be successful as a youth and burn out. He blew his knee out as a sophomore. He had complete reconstructive knee surgery as a sophomore and didn't wrestle. Last year, it was basically his freshman year.
"Now, he's starting to win. It doesn't matter what you do in the early season. If you're a 9-7 team and get into the NFL playoffs, you can still win it."
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.