The 18 area qualifiers could lose twice at their weight classes - some of which were pretty thin - and still get through the District 6 Class AAA Tournament to advance to the Northwest Regional.
The margin for error, however, will decrease this week for everybody in the regional tournament. Only the top three placewinners at each weight class qualify for the PIAA Championships.
The tournament, which includes the top four from District 6, District 10 and the combined districts of 9 and 4, and top two from District 8, begins at 5 p.m. today at the AAHS Fieldhouse. There's a preliminary round, a quarterfinal round and one round of consolations going to be wrestled tonight.
The tournament, resumes at 10 Saturday morning. The semifinals are at 12:30, and the consolation finals are set for 6. The finals will follow at about 7.
"The regional tournament is a great tournament," Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. "I believe we've only had maybe 18 winners in our history at Altoona, and some great wrestlers never won the regional tournament from our program. We were lucky to get one the past two years in T.J. Brandt, and we're hoping for the opportunity to get one or two more this year.
"The top three get out to the state tournament, and that's the ultimate goal at the end of the year, but we definitely are shooting for titles this weekend."
Gilbert has a small four-man group, but two of those are district champions in freshman Cole Manley (106) and junior D.J. Hollingshead (152).
After a bye in the first round, Manley (25-5) will get his first test of the week with a likely bout against Strong Vincent District 10 runner-up Carmine Ciotti (23-2). McDowell's returning state qualifier and district champ Charlie Lenox is one of those who will be trying to get to the finals.
"C.J. has a tough bracket," Gilbert said. "The Ciotti kid is a very good wrestler, and he only has two losses. We know that will be a very tough match, and he's going to have to be ready to go. We expect him to go out, wrestle his type of match and we're hoping he wins, or at least gets to the finals. Then, we'll go from there."
For Hollingshead (30-2) to reach the finals, win his first regional title and return to Hershey, he'll likely have to go through General McLane's defending regional champ Mike Sutton. With a win in his opener against Cathedral Prep's Connor Wurst, Hollingshead will capture his 100th career victory.
"He has to beat the returning regional champion at that weight class to get [to the finals]," Gilbert said. "We're more worried about taking it one match at a time and making sure he's doing what he's supposed to be doing out there. He has to keep wrestling tough, stay physical with his opponent and look to score points, and good things will happen.
"I think experience is crucial. This is his third trip to the regional tournament, so there should be no jitters. It's here at home, and he's been to multiple tournaments, and he knows how the event works."
Hollidaysburg's two-time district champ Damian Huff (18-6) - one of four Golden Tigers in the tourney - will also be looking for his first regional title, but to do so, he'll have to get through a bracket that includes Prep's District 10 runner-up TNauz Gregory (18-5) and Meadville's district third-placer Aaron Ehrgott (26-5).
In the other bracket are General McLane's returning champ Joe Wheeling (31-1), Philipsburg-Osceola's Chris Thompson (25-6), who had a lead over Huff in third period of the district finals, and Bellefonte's Luke Leathers (25-9).
"He's right there," Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore said. "Obviously Damian, Thompson, Leathers and Joe Wheeling from General McLane are all pretty close to one another, and it's going to be a matter of who has a great tournament to get out of there."
It was a good news, bads news situation for P-O last week as the Mounties tied Central Mountain for the most regional qualifiers with 10, but they had two runners-up in Thompson and Bub Lumadue (182) and coach Tim McCamley said they didn't have enough finalists.
McCamley said Saturday night that a bursa sac in Thompson's surgically repaired knee burst, but the swelling went down a few days later.
"We're ready to hit heads," McCamley said. "We've had enough of the practice room, and we're ready to test our skills and see what we've got. I'd like to get them all through. I don't like to put pressure on the kids with a number that we want to get through. We take it one match at a time.
"I think it helps being back in Altoona. We had a lot of nerves showing in districts, especially with a lot of the younger kids. It might be an advantage being in the same place. And some of the kids might be more comfortable because now it's icing on the cake."
Lumadue, Caleb Shively and Nick Gray wrestled in the regionals last year, with Lumadue making it the farthest, reaching the consy semifinals before bowing out. It's that kind of experience that has helped the Mounties' full wrestling room this week.
"Having almost everybody there really helps in the practice room," McCamley said. "Just about everybody stayed to work out, even the guys who are out of the tournament. Everybody is in the same boat, and we start everything new this week."
Notes: P-O's last regional champion was Bo Reifer in 2008. Hollidaysburg's last champ was Brian Shaw in 2005. ... Six returning champs make up the field, including Cathedral Prep's two-time winner Jake Gromacki (120) and DuBois' top-ranked Tom Sleigh (195). ... McDowell qualified 12 wrestlers to the tournament.