The Westmoreland County Coaches Association Wrestling Tournament has special meaning for Latrobe coach Tad Harbert and Hempfield coach Vince DeAugustine.
Both won three county titles while wrestling at their alma maters.
"I have a lot of good memories from this tournament," said Harbert, who won consecutive titles from 1984-86. "It means a lot to me and to the kids to compete in such a strong tournament."
DeAugustine has similar feelings.
"It's one of the strongest county tournaments in the country," said DeAugustine, who won his county titles from 1995-97. "It features some of the best wrestlers in the state. This year's tournament features 13 PIAA place-winners."
Harbert took it even a step further.
"Just look at the wrestlers in this tournament who are ranked nationally," Harbert said. "That will show you just how strong this tournament is."
Five WCCA participants are ranked nationally by Amateur Wrestling News, including Latrobe's freshman phenom, Luke Pletcher, who is No. 2 at 106 pounds after winning a title at the prestigious Powerade Christmas Tournament two weeks ago.
"Luke is off to a great start in his career," Harbert said. "It's great to see that he's being recognized nationally."
Pletcher is joined in the national rankings by four WCCA participants: Kiski Area's Matt McCutcheon, Hempfield's Sam Krivus, Franklin Regional's Michael Kemerer and Burrell's Dakota DesLauriers.
McCutcheon, a Penn State recruit, is ranked No. 3 at 195 pounds and is a three-time WCCA champion. Only nine wrestlers have won four WCCA titles.
"It's not often that you see a wrestler win four county titles," said Harbert, who took over as head coach when Marc Billett stepped down at the end of last season. "McCutcheon is a strong favorite to reach that goal. He's clearly the favorite at 195."
Krivus is ranked No. 7 at 120 pounds. He placed second in the county last year at 113, losing to Kemerer in a battle of freshmen. Kemerer is ranked No. 8 in the country at 126 pounds. DesLauriers is entered at 182 after winning at 171 and 182 the previous two years.
"There are all-stars at every single weight class," Harbert said. "It's a treat to sit and watch them, and I've got the best seat in the house."
Latrobe won last year's WCCA team title, but will be hard pressed to repeat. Franklin Regional, Kiski Area and Greensburg Salem are considered the co-favorites.
"Franklin Regional and Kiski Area have to be considered the favorites in the team race," said Harbert, noting that Latrobe is the defending team champion.
"Greensburg Salem, Latrobe and Hempfield are also in the shooting match. It will be interesting to see which team comes out on top."
Kemerer is one of four returning champs from Franklin Regional. The others are Tyler Smith, Josh Maruca and Josh Shields, who won titles at 120, 126 and 132, respectively. All four have moved up two weight classes.
"With four returning champions, Franklin Regional has to be considered a front-runner," DeAugustine said. "Kiski probably has the most depth of any team. Greensburg Salem, Latrobe and Burrell are also teams to watch."
Greensburg Salem has three past champions, Zach Voytek, Anthony Cable and Tyler Reinhart. Voytek won at 152 and is now at 160. Cable has moved to 195 after winning at 170 last year. Reinhart won at 103 in 2010, but hasn't made a return trip to the finals. He is now at 152.
McCutcheon is one of two Kiski Area returning champs. The other is Shane Kuhn, the defending champ at 285.
A total of 13 entries have won at least one WCCA title. The other three returning champs are Hempfield's Ricky Cavallo, Latrobe's Zack Zavatsky, and Belle Vernon's Nate Russo. Cavallo won at 106 last year and is now at 113. Zavatsky is the defending champ at 160. Russo won at 103 in 2011, placed third at 113 last year, and is now at 126.
Wrestling begins tomorrow at 5 p.m. Saturday's action begins at 9 a.m. with the semifinals to follow at 12:30 p.m. The consolation finals will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the finals to follow at 7 p.m.