Canon-McMillan wrestling coach Chris Mary chuckled when asked if the Big Macs could unseat Blair Academy as team champion at the Powerade Christmas Tournament.
"[Blair Academy] beat us by almost 100 [97.5] points at last year's tournament," Mary recalled. "Two weeks ago, Blair won the [Walsh Jesuit] Ironman Tournament and we finished fifth, almost 150 [actually 144.5] points behind them."
Blair Academy, a private school located in Blairstown, N.J., is a prohibitive favorite in the 45th annual holiday tournament, which will take place Dec. 28 and 29 at Canon-McMillan High School in Canonsburg. The tournament was originally known as the California University Christmas Tournament.
"Blair is the top dog and everybody knows it," Mary said. "I would be surprised to see any team come close to them in the standings."
Blair Academy dominated last year's Powerade Tournament. The Buccaneers had seven wrestlers advance to the finals and four claimed titles. Canon-McMillan had five wrestlers advance to the finals and two won titles.
"We saw Blair Academy at the Ironman Tournament and nobody came close to them," Franklin Regional coach Eric Mauser said. "I can't see any team giving them a serious threat. The battle will be for second place."
The Powerade Christmas Tournament boasts its biggest field, as 46 teams are entered in the two-day tournament, which is ranked No. 3 in the country among regular-season high school tournaments by WrestlingReport.com. The Ironman Tournament is ranked No. 1, while New Jersey's Beast of the East Tournament is No. 2.
"Our schedule includes three of the top four tournaments in the country," said Mary, also referring to the No. 4 ranked Reno, Nev., Tournament of Champions, in which the Big Macs won the team title this past weekend. "The Reno tournament had 119 teams from 25 different states, but Powerade has more overall depth. Ironman was loaded in every weight class."
Blair Academy entered the season as the country's No. 1-ranked team according to Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine, while Canon-McMillan was No. 3. California's Clovis High, ranked No. 5, and Cincinnati's Moeller High, ranked No. 21, are also entered in the field at Powerade.
Moeller won the Powerade Tournament title in 2005, and its most recent appearance was 2009. Clovis placed fourth in its last Powerade appearance in 2008.
"The new teams entered in this year's field are very talented," Mauser said. "It has definititely increased the overall strength of the tournament."
Blair, Clovis and Moeller are among 13 out-of-state teams competing in this year's field. Three teams are making their inaugural appearances: Baylor (Tenn.), Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), and Hermiston (Ore.). Good Counsel placed 11th at the Ironman Tournament, while Hermiston finished 20th.
"Ten of last year's champions were underclassmen," Powerade Tournament director Frank Vulcano Jr. said. "All but one are back, and two are in the same weight class."
The 2011 champion who won't compete this year is Canon-McMillan's Solomon Chishko, the defending champ at 145 pounds. He is out until some time next month recovering from elbow surgery.
Meanwhile, Chishko's teammate, Cody Wiercioch, another defending champ, will compete as will Kennard-Dale's Chance Marstellar.
Wiercioch and Marsteller are both two-time PIAA champions and two-time Powerade Tournament champs, and both are in the 170-pound weight class. Wiercioch is the defending Powerade champion at 170, while Marsteller won at 160.
Blair Academy has two returning champions, Russell Parsons at 152, and Brooks Black at 285. Both return in their same weight classes.
The other five returning champions are: Central Catholic's Vincenzo Joseph at 106; Franklin Regional's Michael Kemerer at 113; Burrell's Dakota DesLauriers at 182; Hampton's Jacob Hart at 195; and Solanco's Thomas Haines at 220.
Joseph has moved to the 120-pound weight class, and Kemerer has moved to 126. DesLauriers, Hart and Haines return at the same weight classes.
Kemerer was one of five Franklin Regional wrestlers who placed at last year's Powerade Tournament. All five were underclassmen, but only four of the five will participate, because heavyweight Luke Fleck is out with an injury until January.
The tournament field includes 119 wrestlers who qualified for a state tournament last season, including 19 who won state titles. Fifty-five were PIAA qualifiers.
A plethora to pick from
Wrestling fans will have a choice of tournaments next weekend, as 68 of the WPIAL's 84 teams are entered in holiday tournaments.
Most of the teams are entered in three tournaments, which will take place Dec. 28 and 29.
The headliner, of course, is the Powerade Christmas Tournament at Canon-McMillan, which has its biggest field with 46 teams, including 19 from the WPIAL.
But there are plenty of other options.
West Mifflin's Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic also has its biggest field with 29 teams, including 24 from the WPIAL and four from the City League.
The Southmoreland Holiday Classic has its biggest field with 33 teams, including 20 from the WPIAL.
Kiski Area and North Allegheny are entered in the Manheim Holiday Tournament, which will take place Dec. 27 and 28.
North Catholic, Indiana and West Shamokin are in the Redbank Valley Tournament, which will take place Dec. 28 and 29.
Here are the teams competing at the "big three" tournaments.
Powerade Christmas Tournament (at Canon-McMillan) -- Altoona, Baylor (Tenn.), Bellefonte, Benton, Bethel Park, Blair Academy (Blairstown, N.J.), Blue Mountain, Brookville, Burrell, Canon McMillan, Cedar Cliff, Central Catholic, Chartiers-Houston, Chartiers Valley, Clovis (Calif.), Connellsville, Derry, Father Judge, Forest Park (Va.), Franklin Regional, Good Counsel (Olney, Md.), Greensburg Salem, Hampton, Hempfield, Hermiston (Ore.), Huntington (W.Va.), Kennard-Dale, Kittanning, Latrobe, McDowell, McGuffey, Mifflinburg, Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio), Norwin, Parkland, Penn Trafford, Peters Township, Ripley (W.Va.), Saegertown, Solanco, Solon (Ohio), St. Pauls (Md.), Trinity Camp Hill, Walsh Jesuit (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio), Waynesburg and Westmont Hilltop.
Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic (at West Mifflin) -- Albert Gallatin, Ambridge, Avonworth, Belle Vernon, Brashear, Cambridge Springs, Carlynton, Carrick, Fox Chapel, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks, McKeesport, Mt. Lebanon, North Hills, Obama Academy, Penn Hills, Plum, Shady Side Academy, Shaler, South Allegheny, South Fayette, South Park, Thomas Jefferson, Upper St. Clair, Washington, West Mifflin, Westinghouse, Woodland Hills and Yough.
Southmoreland Holiday Classic -- Baldwin, Bentworth, Beth-Center, Blairsville, Burgettstown, Butler, Chaleroi, Corry, Forest Hills, Freedom, Gateway, Greenville, Grove City, Hickory, Highlands, Holidaysburg, Jeannette, Jefferson-Morgan, Knoch, Ligonier Valley, Marion Center, Mars, Meyersdale, Mount Pleasant, Northern Bedford, North Star, Pine-Richland, Riverview, Slippery Rock, Southmoreland, South Side Beaver, Valley and West Greene.
First Published December 21, 2012 5:00 AM