They've wrestled four times, including in the District 6 Class AA Tournament finals and in the Southwest Regional Tournament finals, and today Central Cambria's Max Murin and Penn Cambria's Nolan Link begin their quest to wrestle in the state tournament finals.
Is it possible? It's a rarity for guys to wrestle each other in the district, regional and state finals on the Class AA side, and at least one authority, Off The Mat, isn't convinced it will happen, picking Murin to finish sixth and Link to take eighth. Heck, Chestnut Ridge's Aaron Burkett, who had a 6-2 lead on Link in the Southwest Regional semifinals before the PC junior pinned him in the third period, is picked to place fifth.
But, shortly after Murin beat Link, 2-0, with a last-second reversal in the finals, Central Cambria coach Bob Nikolishen said he wouldn't be surprised if they met again in the state finals.
"I'll call it, because I called [the regional finals matchup]," Nikolishen said. "I'll be a little arrogant here. We had discussed this a couple days before the tournament, and we felt very strongly that these two were going to meet in the finals of this tournament. Not knowing what the outcome was going to be, but I figured they'd meet up. These guys are like truckers out on I-80, and they're going to keep on driving no matter what the weather is."
"If he does [call that right], then I want him buying me a lottery ticket," PC coach Todd Niebauer joked. "I'll take that one, and, hey, I won't complain. We'll take it one match a time. If we see each other, hopefully it's in the winner's bracket."
Murin has won by decision in all four bouts, but Niebauer said that's where the comparison stops.
"What's really different is both of them have wrestled different every time," he said. "They both adjust their styles, which is neat. You like being a part of matches like where there are two good kids trying to change things up to better each other. We want to be on the other end, and we'll work this week on a couple things, but we've got 14 other kids at that weight that we have to worry about."
Murin, Link and Burkett are three of the area's 17 wrestlers who will be looking for a medal at the PIAA Class AA Championships.
The tournament begins at 9 this morning at the Giant Center. A win will assure them of a berth in Friday's quarterfinals. A loss means they'll have to wrestle again at 12:15 p.m. and face an intimidating route through the consolations to get a medal.
Three of the area wrestlers are returning medalists, including Bedford's Ryan Easter (132), a runner-up at 120 last season who is looking for his fourth medal but is coming off of a third-place finish at the Southwest Regional.
Huntingdon's Collin Glorioso (113) was third at 106 last season, defeating Palisades's Jacob Wasser in the third-place bout. Glorioso, however, has a brutal first-round bout coming off of his fifth-place finish at regionals. He opens with Bethlehem Catholic's returning 103-pound runner-up Luke Karam, who beat Glorioso, 11-0, in the semifinals last year.
"It's going to be a very rough road from fifth place," Glorioso said on Saturday. "I'm just looking at Jake Wasser from last year. He came out of fifth place at his region and took fourth at states. I can do the exact same thing."
Chestnut Ridge's Austin Buttry (285) placed fifth last season after he made the semifinals, losing to Port Allegany's eventual runner-up Nick Budd, 4-3. A win in his first-round bout, and he could be wrestling Cambria Heights' Aaron Gill in the quarterfinals. Gill has a tough opener in Pen Argyl's Brady Mutton (36-1).
Conner Buttry (182), who worked as a camera guy as a freshman last year for Flo Wrestling as it carried all of the bouts, will wrestle in the tournament for the first time.
"We've got three guys going, so we have to be pleased with that," Ridge coach Greg Lazor said. "I'm thankful for all of the effort they've put in, and they're getting rewarded for it."
Glorioso isn't the only one of the area fifth-placers who has a rough first-round draw. Heights' Joe Davis (126) drew Bethlehem Catholic's returning 126-pound runner-up Zeke Moisey (40-0).
Glorioso will have two other teammates in Hershey in Devon Green (132) and freshman Jacob Oliver (145). Oliver opens with Reynolds' Levi Stoyer (30-3), who handed the Bearcat his first loss, 8-5, at the PIAA Duals. Green sprained his knee in the regional third-place bout against Easter, but Huntingdon coach Jon Mykut said the senior will wrestle.
"His knee is banged up, and he hasn't practiced this week, but he's going to give it a shot," Mykut said. "There's probably a whole lot of guys who are banged up right now. He'll have to work to get through it.
"We're working on getting them all on the medals stand. They've been wrestling hard all season long and worked their hardest to get out of the toughest region in the state. Anything can happen."
Bedford's Johnathan Gabriel (113) was also injured at the regional tournament, but Bedford coach Brian Creps didn't want to disclose what it was. On Tuesday, Creps said Gabriel was practicing and was joining Easter and Garrett Thomas (138) at states. Gabriel and Thomas are making their first state tournament appearances.
"All the kids are in good spirts and are ready to wrestle," Creps said. "The three of them have the pedigrees, and they have always had the goal to place at tournaments like this."
Cambria Heights' regional runner-up Levi Niebauer (160), Cemtral Cambria's Tom Opdenhoff (126), Tyrone's Jared Beckwith (195) and Everett's Devin Reed (285) will be making their first appearances at states. Beckwith, who finished fifth at regionals, is looking at the tournament as a new beginning.
"It's a completely different tournament," Beckwith said, "so I look at it as coming into a fresh tournament and just try to do my best."