Penn Cambria's Evan Link and Tyrone's Ronnie Garbinsky have had their ups and downs in the PIAA Championships over the years.
Garbinsky has made three straight semifinals, but he's fallen short in all of them. Link made the finals as a sophomore, where he lost to North Star's Nick Roberts, but then he finished seventh last season.
They both should make the finals this season, meaning Garbinsky will finally clear that semifinal hurdle.
The Golden Eagle senior 135-pounder has tweaked his style since his loss to Burrell's Jeremy Landowski in the regional finals, but will it be enough? Landowski was better than Garbinsky on his feet early on, and he took advantage. If Garbinsky stays with his new gameplan, he could beat Landowski, but I'm picking Landowski in the rematch.
Link, on the other hand, is my pick to battle through the loaded 112-pound weight class and win the title. It certainly won't be easy. He'll have to beat a returning runner-up in Bermudian Springs' Brad Farley, a returning champion in Line Mountain's Zain Retherford and possibly Roberts again in the finals.
History is not on Link's side. His brother, Nathan, lost in the finals as a senior. His other brother, Ryan, suffered a controversial overtime loss to Wyomissing's then freshman Nick Hodgkins in the semifinals. There was Evan's loss in the finals as a sophomore. There's also the fact that Penn Cambria has never had a state champion.
But Evan will blaze a new trail, survive a brutal run through his bracket and win the title. A run like that will earn him some Outstanding Wrestler votes, but I went with Derry Area's machine Jimmy Gulibon for the award.
I also picked Burrell to win the team title. I know Bethlehem Catholic is the trendy pick to win, but Burrell should have more finalists and placers.
There are other area wrestlers, like Central Cambria's Ben Rager (125) and Tony Risaliti (152), Bedford's Ryan Easter (103) and Claysburg-Kimmel's Ty Dively (125), who could make runs at the state finals. Rager and Dively, in fact, could wrestle each other in the semifinals.
The fun part of the tournament is there are always upsets, so you really never know what's going to happen. It's what sends a buzz through the arena and totally screws up my picks.
Speaking of which, the first thing Portage's David Kephart said to me after he lost in the 189-pound finals last week was this: "I'm always screwing up your picks." I picked him to win the weight, and I picked against Bishop Carroll football, for which he was a key player, a couple times. The Huskies ended up winning those games.
Funny guy that David Kephart. Anyway, the tournament should be interesting.
103 POUNDS: Finalists: Ian Brown, Hanover vs. Jason Nolf, Kittanning. Champion: Nolf. Comment: Bedford's Ryan Easter could stop Brown's run right away in the preliminaries.
112 POUNDS: Finalists: Evan Link, Penn Cambria vs. Nick Roberts, North Star. Champion: Link. Comment: The winner of the Zain Retherford-Link semifinal bout wins the title.
119 POUNDS: Finalists: Jimmy Gulibon, Derry Area vs. Randy Cruz, Bethlehem Catholic. Champion: Gulibon. Comment: Claysburg-Kimmel's James Dodson will get returning runner-up Cruz in the semis.
125 POUNDS: Finalists: Cody Wheeler, Towanda vs. Mason Beckman, Reynolds. Champion: Beckman. Comment: Beckman will face Shady Side Academy's Geoff Alexander in a big semifinal.
130 POUNDS: Finalists: Dave Makara, Burrell vs. Coltin Fought, Benton. Champion: Fought. Comment: Fought beat Makara, 5-2, in last year's 125-pound semifinals.
135 POUNDS: Finalists: Jeremy Landowski, Burrell vs. Ronnie Garbinsky, Tyrone. Champion: Landowski. Comment: The semifinal between Landowski and Pen Argyl's Mike Racciato will be a good one.
140 POUNDS: Finalists: Travis Shaffer, Derry Area vs. Luke Frey, Montoursville. Champion: Frey. Comment: Frey pushed Tyrone's A.J. Schopp to the final second in last year's title bout.
145 POUNDS: Finalists: Nick Hodgkins, Wyomissing vs. Zach Beitz, Juniata. Champion: Hodgkins. Comment: Hodgkins was denied a second state title by Schopp in the semifinals last year.
152 POUNDS: Finalists: Mike Pavasko, Steel Valley vs. Nick Carr, South Fayette. Champion: Carr. Comment: I was tempted to pick Central Cambria's Tony Risaliti as a finalist here.
160 POUNDS: Finalists: Travis McKillop, Burrell vs. Cody Wiercioch, Charleroi. Champion: McKillop. Comment: These two have to be sick of wrestling each other.
171 POUNDS: Finalists: Nathaniel Brown, Lewisburg vs. Wes Phipps, Grove City. Champion: Brown. Comment: Bedford's Brian Gibbons will face Phipps, a returning third-placer, in the quarterfinals.
189 POUNDS: Finalists: Stephen Ceremuga, Commodore Perry vs. Dylan Scheidt, Schuylkill Valley. Champion: Ceremuga. Comment: Northern Bedford's Dan Sollenberger has a big first bout against Muncy's Ryan Hembury.
215 POUNDS: Finalists: Eric Laytos, Lackawanna Trail vs. Matt Mongera, Seneca. Champion: Laytos. Comment: It's a rematch of last year's 215-pound finals.
285 POUNDS: Finalists: John Rizzo, Richland vs. Jeff Tarley, Beth-Center. Champion: Tarley. Comment: A bunch of guys could stop a rematch of the regional finals.
OUTSTANDING WRESTLER: Jimmy Gulibon, Derry Area.
TEAM CHAMPION: Burrell. Comment: Bethlehem Catholic will battle Burrell for the title.
LAST WEEK'S SOUTHWEST REGIONAL RECORD: 16 of 29 correct.
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.