After spending the past three holiday seasons at the Powerade Christmas Tournament, South Side Beaver wrestling coach Jerry McCoy decided the Rams needed a change.
"We have a pretty young team," McCoy said. "I felt it would be more beneficial for us to attend the Southmorland Holiday Classic."
The Powerade Christmas Tournament ranks third in the country in prestige and probably in strength of competition among regular-season tournaments with a field that includes WPIAL defending champions Canon-McMillan (Class AAA) and Burrell (AA), as well as New Jersey's Blair Academy, recognized annually in recent years as the top high school program in the country.
"We have three kids who could do well at Powerade and maybe place," McCoy said. "The rest of my kids have little or no varsity experience. It would be two [matches] and done for them. It just wouldn't be worth it.
"That's why I decided to make a change."
Thus, McCoy chose the Southmoreland Holiday Classic, which boasts the biggest field in its history with 33 teams. The tournament begins tomorrow and concludes Saturday.
"It's been a while since we've been to the Southmore-land Tournament," McCoy said. "It's a tournament with good competition, but not a meat-grinder like Powerade can be.
"We get to see a good mix of teams from the WPIAL, along with teams that we don't normally see until the postseason."
South Side Beaver is one of 20 teams from the WPIAL entered in the Southmoreland Holiday Classic. The others are: Baldwin, Bentworth, Beth-Center, Burgettstown, Butler, Chaleroi, Freedom, Gateway, Highlands, Jeannette, Jefferson-Morgan, Knoch, Mars, Mount Pleasant, Pine-Richland, Riverview, Southmoreland, Valley and West Greene.
The 33-team field also includes 13 teams from outside the WPIAL: Blairsville, Corry, Forest Hills, Greenville, Grove City, Hickory, Hollidaysburg, Ligonier Valley, Marion Center, Meyersdale, Northern Bedford, North Star and Slippery Rock,
"This tournament gives our kids a chance to see a lot of different Class AA opponents," McCoy said.
"And most of them will be down to the weight class in which they will be competing during the postseason tournaments."
Greenville, a Class AA school from District 10, is the defending team champion. In fact, Greenville has been the most successful team in the history of the tournament. Greenville has won three titles and placed second twice since 2005.
Jefferson-Morgan, last year's Southmoreland Classic runner-up, is the WPIAL's top entry. The Rockets have two returning champions, John Demaske and Dustin Conti. Demaske won at 113 but has moved to 132 this season. Conti has moved up to 182 after winning at 170 last year.
The only other returning champion from the WPIAL is Bentworth's Vince Vahaly, who won at 126 last year and is back at the same weight.
"We have three kids who have a legitimate shot of winning a title," said McCoy, referring to Nathan Reckner, Shane Gentry and Connor Payne, who entered the season with a combined total of 278 career wins.
Reckner and Payne are two-time PIAA qualifiers, while Gentry is a two-time Southwest Region qualifier.
"Nathan will be a force at 122," said McCoy, referring to the 120-pound weight class plus the 2-pound weight allowance. "Shane is entered at 132 and Connor will be at 170."
Payne recently recorded his 79th career pin, which is a school record.
Heading to West Mifflin
Hopewell and South Fayette are among the favorites at the Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic, which begins tomorrow at West Mifflin Area High School. And neither was in the tournament last year.
Hopewell attended the Wheeling Park duals last year, but decided against a return trip after the PIAA clamped down on two-day dual tournaments.
South Fayette was at the Southmoreland Holiday Classic last year.
Also entered at the DeAugustino Holiday Classic are: Albert Gallatin, Ambridge, Avonworth, Belle Vernon, Brashear, Cambridge Springs, Carlynton, Carrick, Fox Chapel, Keystone Oaks, McKeesport, Mt. Lebanon, North Hills, Obama Academy, Penn Hills, Plum, Shady Side Academy, Shaler, South Allegheny, South Park, Thomas Jefferson, Upper St. Clair, Washington, West Mifflin, Westinghouse, Woodland Hills and Yough.