Regional wrestling set to get underway

When they were all under the same roof the last time they saw each other, Burrell was finishing third at the PIAA Duals, edging by first Chestnut Ridge (31-26) and then Huntingdon (31-27) along the way in the consolations.

Burrell, which has won the Southwest team title four times since 2005, District 6 individual and duals champion Huntingdon and District 5 individual and duals champ Chestnut Ridge are all back together this weekend at the Cambria County War Memorial in Johnstown for the Southwest Regional Tournament meatgrinder.

Throw in Berlin Brothersvalley, which won the Thomas Subaru Tournament but finished second in District 5, defending regional champ South Fayette and even Jefferson Morgan and you get a team title that appears up for grabs.

“To be honest, I just hope our kids go out like they did at the district tournament,” said Huntingdon coach Jon Mykut, who has a nine-man contingent at the tournament. “We want to get through as many as possible, and that team stuff will take care of itself. Wrestling for the team title is not our focus, but any time you bring that many guys, it benefits your group.”

At least Huntingdon can point to Claysburg-Kimmel winning the team title in 2012 to show that it has a shot at the title. The last District 5 team to win was Bedford in 1997. The Bisons also won in 1991 and 1995.

Much was expected of the District 5 teams the last two years, but they haven’t gotten the trophy, although they got a little closer last year. Two years ago, Bedford tied for sixth and Ridge was eighth. Last year, Bedford was third, and Ridge was fifth.

“I think District 5 teams have the potential to compete very well,” said Ridge coach Greg Lazor, who has an eight-man contingent. “District 5 has a lot of quality wrestlers. We’ve blown some opportunities in the recent past, but we have to get over that. We have seen all of the competition, and we’re deserving to compete at that level.

“I think we should be in the mix if we wrestle well. There are a lot of good teams, like Burrell, South Fayette, Berlin and Huntingdon. We’ve seen every one of them, and we match up decent with them. There will be a lot of good battles.

The tournament begins at 1 p.m. Friday, and includes the top four from District 6, the top three from District 5 and the top seven from District 7. The quarterfinals and first round of consolations are set for 4 p.m. Friday, and a second round of consolations will follow at 7.

Wrestling resumes Saturday at 11 a.m. with the semifinals. The consolation finals and championship finals are set for 5 p.m. While there’s a lot of focus on the team contenders, this is still about making it to the PIAA Championships. The top five at every weight class will advance to the state tournament next week in Hershey.

What the 47 area qualifiers will find out, if they haven’t wrestled in the tournament before, is the tournament is unlike many that they’ve wrestled. Many of the wrestlers who are ranked in the state by Off The Mat will be trying to make it through deep weights.

“Some of the weights are really tough,” Bedford coach Brian Creps said. “They’re tremendously filled with really good wrestlers. Some of the brackets are just as tough as a lot of triple-A brackets. If you’re looking ahead enough, a lot of the good kids will jump up and bite you.”

Creps has a pretty good kid in 132-pounder Ryan Easter, who is coming off of winning his fourth District 5 title. A regional tournament title, however, has been much harder to win for Easter, who has had to settle for second three times, losing to Kittanning’s two-time state champion and three-time regional champ Jason Nolf twice and to Ligonier Valley’s Josh Patrick in a tiebreaker last season.

To break through and finally win, he will likely have to go through South Fayette’s Mike Carr, who is 37-0 and beat Easter, 6-2, in the Thomas Subrau finals. Both get byes in the first round.

“He’s a three-time runner-up, and I like to think that he has a good chance to win it,” Creps said. “We’ve been looking for a regional championship for awhile now. We have to get past [Burrell’s John] Andrejcik first. We’re not looking too far ahead. If we would get our chance at Carr, we’d like that. There’s a lot of things that have to happen before that, though.”

The only other area returning finalist is Huntingdon 113-pounder Collin Glorioso (34-0), who caught fire at the tournament last year and won the 106-pound weight class. Ranked second in the state, Glorioso won’t be sneaking up on anybody this year.

“I’m sure he’s focused on winning the whole thing,” Mykut said. “113 is probably the toughest weight class. I’m sure he’s not going to walk right through it. His focus has to be to take it one match as a time. He’ll get out and get after it like he’s been doing all year.”

While that’s one subplot, another is how the near misses of last season will wrestle. Cambria Heights’ Joe Davis (126) and Levi Niebauer (160), Ridge’s Aaron Burkett (106), Bedford’s Garrett Thomas (138) and Moshannon Valley’s Jack Bunnell (285) all finished sixth last year – a place shy of making it to Hershey.

“We got fortunate with the district finals loss [to Ridge’s Derrick Claar] that we didn’t get put in a horrible spot in the weight,” Creps said of Thomas. “He seems pretty focused this week. He came up one match shy last year, so there’s a lot of motivation for him.”

There are other juicy subplots to look forward to in the tournament. Who will come out of the 106-pound class? Will Central Cambria’s unbeaten freshman Max Murin (31-0) continue his torrid first year or will Burkett or Penn Cambria’s Nolan Link be able to snatch the title?

Who will make it out of the bottom half of the 145-pound bracket to face Nolf in the finals? There’s a good chance Huntingdon freshman phenom Jacob Oliver (34-1) and Ridge’s Trent Crouse, the District 5 Outstanding Wrestler, will tangle in the semifinals.

There are a lot of other questions that will be answered, and the area coaches and wrestlers can’t wait to start answering them, especially the District 6 guys, who have been off for two weeks.

“We had a week off, and we used that to get healthy,” Mykut said. “We’re not banged up, but there were little nagging injuries. The kids are excited and ready to get at it.”

“Some of the boys who have had letdowns in the past are confident,” Lazor said. “They want to prove how good they are, and I hope they’re excited for the opportunity.”