Wrestling fans who appreciate big-time, gritty and emotional wrestling tournaments that can be decided by the smallest of margins will be in their glory this week.
Yep, it's time for the Thomas Tournament.
The two-day tournament, which begins Friday at Bedford High School, has a bunch of talented wrestlers and two top 10 Class AA teams in the Off The Mat rankings in second-ranked Chestnut Ridge and sixth-ranked West Branch.
Add 15th-ranked Bedford, which lost to Ridge, 39-32, earlier in the season, fellow District 5 power and 23rd-ranked Berlin Brothersvalley, which suffered its only loss to Ridge, 43-19, and defending champion Tri Valley, and you get a logjam at the top of the team standings.
Here's a closer look at what appears to be the top four teams:
Chestnut Ridge: The Lions, who could have a lineup shift for the tournament, have returning 2012 champions back in Trent Crouse and Dan Albright and a 2011 champ back in Tyler Dibert. Add unbeaten 285-pounder Austin Buttry, once-beaten Bradie Bollman and 19-3 Derrick Claar to the mix, and you like their chances.
Bedford: The Bisons, who led the team standings before going 1-for-4 in the finals last year, will likely have many of their guys down a weight for the first time, strengthening the lineup. Michael Brett is a returning 2012 champ, while two-time runner-up Ryan Easter and 2012 runners-up Garrett Thomas and Toby Brett also return. Add once-beaten Jonathan Gabriel and 18-3 Tanner Williams, and Bedford is formidable.
West Branch: The Warriors haven't been a good tournament team in the past, but nobody can argue with their dual meet strength this season. They suffered a 34-33 heartbreaker to No. 5 Brookville last week, and they lost to Class AAA unbeaten General McLane, 37-24, at the Clearfield Bison Duals Saturday. Six of their wrestlers have at least 17 wins, including unbeaten 220-pounder Buzzy Maines and once-beaten 285-pounder Morgan Selepack.
Berlin Brothersvalley: Berlin, which finished eighth last year with only one finalist, has five wrestlers with at least 17 wins, including twice-beaten Chris Miller and Bryce Fochtman.
The pick here is Chestnut Ridge by a small margin over Bedford.
Other champs return in Tri Valley's Caleb Bordner and thrd-ranked Ty Schoffstall, Conemaugh Township's Tanner Cahill, Jefferson Morgan's Dustin Conti.
It was only two years ago that Claysburg-Kimmel came oh so close to winning the Thomas Tournament. And it was only last year that the Bulldogs won the Southwest Regional Tournament crown thanks to James Dodson and Ty Dively winning titles and Josh Brown finishing second.
Dodson and Dively have graduated and a handful of this year's wrestlers have quit, bringing the Bulldogs back to the pack a little. Still, they are 10-4 after Saturday's 53-19 loss to Bedford.
"Regardless of what are our record says, we are still very much in a rebuilding process," C-K coach Dave Marko said. "We're the product of a couple of years when we had great graduating classes. We had a great five or six-year run and the runs that we had before that."
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at ToddIrwin1.