The Central Catholic wrestling program has seen a significant improvement since Sanshiro Abe took over as head coach five years ago.
In the four years prior to his arrival, the Vikings registered a 33-55 record and did not qualify for postseason play in any of the four seasons.
In Abe's first four seasons, Central Catholic posted a 39-21 record and qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament three times.
Abe's success has continued this season, as the Vikings earned their fourth consecutive postseason berth by tying for first place in Section 3B.
"I've been fortunate to have kids who are willing to put in the extra time during the season and in the offseason," Abe said.
Central Catholic took a 4-1 record into Wednesday night's Section 3 tournament, which took place at North Allegheny High School. A section tournament was conducted in each of the WPIAL's seven sections to determine seeding for next week's WPIAL team tournaments.
"I'm happy with the progress we've made thus far, but we haven't been able to field a full lineup in any of the five seasons," Abe said. "This season, we've had to forfeit at 106 and 113 in every match."
With that in mind, Abe isn't expecting Central Catholic to be a team to watch in the WPIAL tournament.
"Canon-McMillan is clearly the team to beat, especially if Chishko comes back," said Abe, referring to Big Macs junior Solomon Chishko, a WPIAL champion who has been out all season with an elbow injury. "Even without [Chishko], they are still the favorite. I can't see anybody beating them if he comes back."
Canon-McMillan has won three consecutive WPIAL titles. The Big Macs beat North Allegheny in last year's title match.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see North Allegheny back in the finals with Canon-McMillan," Abe said. "In fact, that's who I think will be in the finals."
Central Catholic has faced the strongest schedule of any team in the WPIAL. The Vikings faced a brutal trifecta in December, as they competed in the Walsh Jesuit Ironman Tournament in Ohio, Beast of the East Tournament in Delaware and Powerade Tournament at Canon McMillan. Those rank as the top three high school tournaments in the country.
"I want my kids wrestling the best possible schedule to prepare them for the postseason tournaments," Abe said.
On the weekend of Jan. 11-12, Central Catholic made its annual appearance in the Allegheny County tournament. The Vikings placed third in the team standings and had five wrestlers in the finals.
Kyle Coniker and Zach DeLuca won titles for the Vikings, while Vincenzo Joseph, Justin Alexander and Chris Nuss were runners-up.
Coniker (20-6) won the 152-pound title with a 5-4 rideout of Allderdice's Brian Estep. DeLuca (24-7) claimed the 220-pound title with a 3-1 decision of Montour's Cole Macek.
"Zach wrestled at 285 pounds in our first three tournaments," Abe said. "He's since moved down to the 220-pound weight class. It's a good move for him, because he's had some trouble with the big heavyweights."
Joseph (15-6) made his second appearance in the county finals, but failed to claim a second gold medal after a 13-2 loss to North Allegheny's Dom Forys in the 120-pound final.
"Vincenzo is eligible to wrestle at 115 [113 plus a 2-pound weight allowance] and will be wrestling in that weight class in the postseason tournaments, but he still needs to cut some weight." Abe said.
Joseph was the WPIAL runner-up at 106 last year, while North Allegheny's Dom Forys was the bronze medalist.
"I'm hearing that Forys might also be moving down to 113," Abe said. "We'll just have to wait and see."
Alexander (27-6) made his third appearance in the county finals and had to settle for his third silver medal after a 1-0 loss to North Allegheny's Jesse Rodgers in the 138-pound final.
"Jesse is comfortable at 138," said Abe, when asked if Rodgers would move down. "We feel he is one of the top kids in the WPIAL at that weight class."
Nuss (18-9) advanced to the 145-pound final at the county tournament before dropping a 3-0 decision to Hampton's Kevin Synan.
Central Catholic's only other place-winner at the county tournament was Sam Fallon (14-10), who finished third at 182.
One disappointment for Abe is the injury that has slowed the progress of Ron Seibert (4-5), a 132-pound senior who had 20 wins last season.
"Back and hamstring injuries have kept Ron out of the lineup most of the season," Abe said. "We're hoping to have him for the postseason tournaments."