Area wrestling fans will see a few changes when the high school season begins Friday.
The biggest change is in the Class AAA alignment. All four sections saw changes, some more than others.
Central Catholic and Plum were moved from Section 1 and were replaced by Hempfield Area and McKeesport Area, who were in Section 2 last year.
"We came from a very strong section to another strong section," Central Catholic coach Sanshiro Abe said. "Both sections have good balance and our travel time is about the same in either section, so it doesn't really matter where they put us.
"My goal is to give my kids the best competition possible to get them ready for the postseason tournaments."
And that's just what Abe has done, as the Vikings are entered in three of the top five tournaments in the country, during the first month of the season.
Central Catholic opens its season at Walsh Jesuit's Ironman Classic in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, beginning Friday. One week later, the Vikings travel to New Jersey for the Beast of the East tournament, which is considered the strongest tournament in the country. After Christmas, the Vikings are entered in the Powerade Christmas Tournament, at Canon-McMillan High School on Dec. 28-29.
"It's a very challenging schedule," said Abe, referring to the fact that no other WPIAL team is entered in all three tournaments this season. "Some may question that it's too tough, but I like starting off with a strong schedule. It will help us prepare for the postseason."
Central Catholic and Plum are now in Section 3B, along with Fox Chapel, Hampton, North Hills and Shaler Area.
"Section 1 was stacked from top to bottom with strong teams and quality wrestlers, especially the sub-section we were in," Plum coach Mike Supak said. "Section 3 has a lot of good teams on the rise."
Central Catholic has nine starters returning from last year's squad, including seven who recorded 20 or more wins, and five who finished in the top eight in the WPIAL in their weight classes.
The Vikings top returnee is sophomore Vincenzo Joseph (39-8), who placed second in the WPIAL and seventh in the PIAA at 106 pounds.
Other top returnees for Central Catholic are Chris Nuss (28-10 at 138), Justin Alexander (29-15 at 132) and Tony Palumbo (25-17 at 145).
Plum has all but three starters returning. The Mustangs top returnees are Eric Green (23-14) and Jacob DiGuillio (21-15 at 220).
Hempfield was moved from Section 2A to Section 1B, joining Westmoreland County rivals Greater Latrobe, Greensburg Salem, Norwin and Penn-Trafford along with Indiana.
"Section 1B has to be the strongest sub-section in the WPIAL," Hempfield coach Vince DeAugustine said. "We face a strong opponent in almost every section match. We have five strong teams vying for three playoff berths. It will be a real battle."
DeAugustine's squad doesn't have to wait long for a challenging match. The Spartans open at Waynesburg Central in a non-section match on Saturday, then play host to Greensburg Salem next Wednesday in their section opener.
"I wanted to beef up our schedule," DeAugustine said. "We also have a non-section match scheduled with Canon-McMillan."
Hempfield has nine starters returning from a squad that advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals, including WPIAL champion and PIAA bronze medalist Sam Krivus (45-4 at 113). Other top returnees for the Spartans are Ricky Cavallo (33-4 at 106), Jesse Giallonardo (29-16 at 138) and Dom Nania (16-6 at 152).
Kiski Area won the Section 1 title last season and was seeded No. 2 in the WPIAL Class AAA bracket, but the Cavaliers were upset losers to North Allegheny in the quarterfinals. The Cavaliers are in Section 1A along with Franklin Regional, Gateway, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills.
"We had a couple injuries last year that hurt us in the team tournament," Kiski Area coach Chuck Tursky said. "We have 10 starters back from that team. If we can stay away from injuries, we have a team that is capable of winning a WPIAL title."
Penn State recruit Matt McCutcheon (41-1 at 182) is Kiski Area's top returnee. McCutcheon won WPIAL and PIAA titles last year and has a 121-12 career record. He is one of three Kiski returnees who qualified for the PIAA tournament last season.
Shane Kuhn (37-6 at 285) placed second in the WPIAL and fourth in the PIAA last year as a freshman. Cole Landowski (31-5 at 138) was also a PIAA qualifier.
Greensburg Salem placed second in the Section 1 tournament last season, then finished third in the WPIAL bracket. The Golden Lions have eight starters returning, including a pair of PIAA qualifiers, Zach Voytek (45-6 at 145) and Tanner Hahn (45-8 at 220). Voytek placed second in the WPIAL and seventh in the PIAA. Hahn, a WPIAL bronze medalist, begins the season on the injured list.
"Tanner suffered a knee injury during football season," Greensburg Salem coach Randy Parsley said. "Fortunately, he had surgery immediately after and has made great progress in his rehab. I'm not sure when he will be back, but it's sooner than later. One thing is for sure: He will be wearing a brace."
Also back for Greensburg Salem are Tyler Reinhart (42-9 at 132) and Anthony Cable (35-8 at 170), a pair of WPIAL fourth-place finishers.
"We're in the tougher side of the section," Parsley said. "You can't have a bad night in this section."
Franklin Regional has four PIAA place-winners returning, Michael Kemerer (39-1 at 106), Tyler Smith (38-4 at 120), Josh Maruca (36-7 at 126) and Josh Shields (37-7 at 132). Kemerer won a WPIAL title and placed second in the PIAA. Smith and Shields were WPIAL runners-up who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the PIAA tournament. Maruca placed third in the WPIAL and fifth in the PIAA.
Latrobe suffered the biggest graduation losses, as rookie coach Tad Harbert has only seven starters returning. The top returnee for Harbert is Zack Zavatsky (41-5 at 160), who won a WPIAL title and placed eighth in the PIAA.