For Claysburg-Kimmel's Josh Brown, Bedford's Ryan Easter and Chestnut Ridge's Tyler Dibert, the Southwest Regional Class AA Tournament has been the launching pad for two trips to the PIAA Championships.
It has also played a frustrating part in their wrestling drama. None of them have won regional titles.
Easter has been to the finals twice, and lost both times to Kittanning's Jason Nolf. Brown was in the 106-pound finals last year, and he lost to Ligonier Valley's Justin Patrick. Dibert has never made the finals, losing in the semifinals the last two years.
It says here, as I make my regional picks, Brown and Easter will finally get the monkey off their backs and win respective titles. Dibert will win a key battle in the semifinals to make the finals, but he'll fall short to a challenger he lost to in the Thomas Subaru Tournament finals.
I'm also picking Bedford's Garrett Thomas to win at 126, Moshannon Valley's James Stodart to capture the 195-pound title and Tussey Mountain's Mitchell Hall to win at 25. If you're counting, that's five champions all together.
Brown lost to Ligonier Valley's Justin Patrick in last year's finals, but he proved in the District 6 finals he can beat Patrick. Brown will get a big test from South Fayette's Seth Carr in the semifinals. Carr beat him in the Thomas finals, but Brown's head bandaged up from a gash near his eye. Free of that and on his game with that wicked low single, Brown takes it all.
Easter has a score to settle with the other Patrick. Easter beat Patrick in the regionals last year, but Patrick beat him in the fifth-place bout at states. I'm giving Easter the edge here.
Dibert, coming off his fourth District 5 title, will have to go through South Fayette's Mike Fetchet in the semifinals. Dibert survived an overtime bout with fetch in the Thomas semis, but he lost to Jefferson Morgan's Dustin Conti in the finals. The same thing will likely happen at regionals. Hopefully Dibert won't have to go OT to do it.
Thomas and Chestnut Ridge's Trent Crouse have put on a show every time they wrestle each other, and I'm saying they'll get a chance to do it again. Crouse has battled, but Thomas had had enough ability to pull out wins, and he will again.
I'm looking forward to seeing Stodart and Ridge's Dan Albright battle in the semifinals. Stodart beat him, 12-2, in last year's regionals, but Albright has improved since then. Since I have Stodart No. 1 and Albright No. 2 in the rankings, I'm giving the edge to Stodart, who will beat Chartiers-Houston's Garrett Vulcano in the finals.
The 285-pound weight class, usually dominated by District 7, appears to be wide open. Chestnut Ridge's Buttry and Cambria Heights' Gill are among the contenders, but Hall has proven himself enough to go with him.
Bedford's Tanner Williams (152) should also be a finalist for the Bisons, who will battle Chestnut Ridge to the end in the team race. But, I'm giving the edge to the battle-tested Lions.
Here's the rest of my picks:
106 POUNDS: Finalists: Austin McDermitt, Burgettstown vs. Austin Griffiths, Southmoreland. Champion: McDermitt. Comment: Bedford's Gabriel and Huntingdon's Glorioso will be at the top of their games here.
113 POUNDS: Finalists: Josh Brown, Claysburg-Kimmel vs. Justin Patrick, Ligonier Valley. Champion: Brown. Comment: Central's Burket could play spoiler role on his side of the bracket.
120 POUNDS: Finalists: Ryan Easter, Bedford vs. Josh Patrick, Ligonier Valley. Champion: Easter. Comment: Chestnut Ridge's Claar could be there in the semifinals to test Easter.
126 POUNDS: Finalists: Garrett Thomas, Bedford vs. Trent Crouse, Chestnut Ridge. Champion: Thomas. Comment: Tempted to go with Southern Huntingdon's Myers on Crouse's side, but I want to see these two wrestle again.
132 POUNDS: Finalists: Jason Nolf, Kittanning vs. J.P. Hayles, West Branch. Champion: Nolf. Comment: Hayles knocked off three returning district runners-up en route to a District 6 title.
138 POUNDS: Finalists: Sean Heggs, Juniata vs. Nick Gavazzi, Charleroi. Champion: Gavazzi. Comment: Can't count out Bedford's Brett and West Branch's Bumbarger on Gavazzi's side.
145 POUNDS: Finalists: Noah Tarr, Blairsville vs. Tanner Cahill, Conemaugh Township. Champion: Tarr. Comment: I have a feeling Northern Bedford's Gartland wants another shot at Cahill. He'll have to beat Tarr to do so.
152 POUNDS: Finalists: Andrew Doak, Blairsville vs. Tanner Williams, Bedford. Champion: Doak. Comment: Williams will get stiff test by Freedom's Bonzo in the semifinals, but he'll pass.
160 POUNDS: Finalists: Cody Law, Forest Hills vs. Bryce Fochtman, Berlin Brothersvalley. Champion: Law. Comment: Ridge's Bollman is just dangerous enough to make a run on Fochtman's side.
170 POUNDS: Finalists: Dustin Conti, Jefferson Morgan vs. Tyler Dibert, Chestnut Ridge. Champion: Conti. Comment: Not surprised that Conti is undefeated considering what I saw of him against Dibert at Thomas.
182 POUNDS: Finalists: Dakota DesLauriers, Burrell vs. Terrell Fields, Valley. Champion: DesLauriers. Comment: I know Blairsville's Thompson is on Fields' side, but Fields pinned him in overtime at regionals last year.
195 POUNDS: Finalists: Garrett Vulcano, Chartiers-Houston vs. James Stodart, Moshannon Valley. Champion: Stodart. Comment: Vulcano could be tested by United's promising sophomore Oliver in semis.
220 POUNDS: Finalists: Jake Temple, Avella vs. Cody Jacobs, West Greene. Champion: Temple. Comment: Jacobs stopped Mo Valley's Ludwig in fifth-place bout last year, so giving him a slight edge on that side.
285 POUNDS: Finalists: Allan Beattie, Burrell vs. Mitchell Hall, Tussey Mountain. Champion: Hall. Comment: If Cambria Heights' Gill is on his game, he could get through Beattie's side. Look out for West Branch's Selepack on Hall's side.
TEAM CHAMPION: Chestnut Ridge. Comment: I'm going to keep picking the Lions until somebody can unseat them. Bedford, West Branch, Blairsville, South Fayette have best shots.
Todd Irwin can be reached at 946-7464 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed on Twitter at ToddIrwin1.