AAA mat tourney set to begin

Altoona 132-pounder D.J. Hollingshead and 138-pounder T.J. Brandt have been a lethal combination in the Mountain Lions’ lineup, and it’s been hard for opposing teams to duck them because they both have moved up or down to get the best competition.

Well, now there’s no ducking either one of them.

Both enter the District 6 Class AAA Tournament as No. 1 seeds and heavy favorites to leave the Altoona Fieldhouse as district champions. As everybody should know by now, Brandt is looking to become the first Altoona wrestler to win four District 6 titles. Hollingshead, a sophomore, is going after his first after finishing second at 120 last season.

Hollingshead (28-3) and Brandt (23-3) are a combined 51-6, and they’re undefeated within the district. In fact, some of their best competition comes when they wrestle each other.

“They both push each other when they live wrestle,” Altoona coach Joel Gilbert said. “They’re phenomenal matches. It’s great for the boys to watch them wrestle. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

“I believe both of them have a great opportunity to win. As long as they go out and wrestle their style, I think they should win their weight class.”

For Altoona, Hollidaysburg, Philipsburg-Osceola and the rest of the nine-team field, the tournament begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The preliminaries, quarterfinals and a consolation round will be wrestled on the first day. Wrestling resumes at 11 a.m. Saturday with the semifinals. The third and fifth-place consolation finals are scheduled for 5 p.m., and the championship finals will follow at 7.

The top four at every weight class advance to the Northwest Regional Tournament next week at the Fieldhouse.

For Brandt, this will be his crowning glory. Okay, he has his sights set on further down the postseason road, but his chance to become the first Altoona four-timer and 19th wrestler in the 75-year history of the district tournament to win four is pretty compelling.

“I just hope that the community and the students come out and support our kids, and hopefully they’re there to see history being made this weekend,” Gilbert said.

Hollidaysburg 106-pounder Damian Huff (18-2) is the other area No. 1 seed. Huff, who finished fourth at the same weight last year, could be opposite Bellefonte’s Luke Leathers (20-5) in the finals, and it would be the first time they’ve wrestled this season.

“Huff’s ready,” Hollidaysburg coach Mike Moore said. “He’s chomping at the bit. He can’t wait for this weekend to get here.”

Moore’s other likely finalist, second-seeded 285-pounder Matt Barton (22-3), will probably have to tangle with Altoona’s Austin Rosenberry in the semifinals. Barton has beaten Rosenberry twice this season, and he earned a 6-2 win over him the consolation finals last season. If the pattern continues, Barton would get Bellefonte’s top-seeded and returning runner-up Garrett Poorman (26-4).

“We’ve got to change some things up with him,” Moore said of a potential Poorman bout. “He’s wrestled him 10 times or so in their career, and it’s been the same outcome. As far as I’m concerned, Matt is just as good as him.”

P-O has three No. 2 seeds in Brian Evans (126), Caleb Shively (138) and Jay Prentice (170), and it would had a fourth had Andrew Greenawalt not suffered a meniscus tear in his knee joint in phys-ed class last Friday. He wrestled against Hollidaysburg that night, but his knee locked up later.

Evans, Shively, Prentice and Nick Gray, who is seeded fourth at 220, are also returning fourth-placers and Northwest Regional qualifiers.

“It’s tough to be optimistic going into the districts when you’ve got five starters out of the lineup injured,” P-O coach Tim McCamley said glumly. “But, we’ve still got 12 kids going to districts, and we’ve got to focus on the positives. It’s tough when a couple of those kids are senior leaders.”

Altoona’s No. 2 seeds, Markief Knode (160) and Mante Barnes (195),will look to join Hollingshead and Brandt in the finals. Knode is a returning fourth-placer.

“I think we’re ready to go,” Gilbert said. “I’ve got a lot of seniors. It’s their last time around. Everybody is healthy and ready to go. We’ve had a few weeks to prepare, and I’m looking forward to them going out and showing what they’re all about. I believe we have a lot of guys who have an opportunity to win this tournament, so hopefully it comes true for them.”

“I think the kids are excited,” Moore said. “We had a great week of practice. We wrestled Friday night [against P-O] and Saturday night [against Shikellamy], and we had a lot of energy in those matches. We’ll see how it all shakes out.”

Notes: Bald Eagle Area’s Jake Taylor is going for his third district title. … Bellefonte’s Trevor Corl, Nick Shawley are returning champs, and Shawley was the Outstanding Wrestler last season, and BEA’s Travis Giedroc was a 2011 champ.