Highlands junior Allen Cratsenberg spent the first month of the high school wrestling season on the Golden Rams basketball team, but that experiment ended last month, much to the pleasure of Logan Downes, Highlands wrestling coach.
"Allen decided to try basketball when the school cut our dual-meet schedule," said Downes, referring to the district's last-minute decision to eliminate dual meets. "I'm glad to see that Allen decided to come back, because he's got a future in wrestling."
Cratsenberg broke into the starting lineup as a 189-pound freshman and posted a 22-14 record. He moved up to 195 last season and qualified for the PIAA Class AA tournament by winning the Section 3 tournament, placing fourth in the WPIAL and fifth in the Southwest Region.
"The late start didn't help," Downes said. "And he got banged up a bit at the Burgettstown tournament. He went through some therapy, so he's good to go for the section tournament."
Cratsenberg has moved to the 220-pound weight class and takes a 5-1 record into the Section 3 tournament, which will take place Saturday at Avonworth High School.
"We have five kids entered, and they are all juniors," Downes said. "We also have 39 kids in our elementary program, so we're hoping the school decides to reinstate our junior high program and our varsity dual-meet schedule."
Downes will not have the services of junior Kendric Moore, who placed third in the section and seventh in the WPIAL at 120 last season. A severe asthma problem has sidelined him.
North Catholic has six wrestlers entered in the Section 3 tournament, including junior Josh Churchin (13-6 at 170). Churchin has been participating for three years, one year longer than the Trojans varsity program. He wrestled as an independent in 2011 and placed fifth in the section at 171.
Last season, North Catholic formed a team and competed as an independent, but Churchin missed the section tournament with an injury. Churchin is back at 170 and takes a 13-6 record into the section tournament.
"We started the season with six kids and they all stuck it out," first-year coach Dan Sefick said. "We're very happy about that. The kids are really looking forward to the section tournament."
Avonworth has 11 wrestlers entered in the Section 3 tournament.
"The district entered only one wrestler in the section tournament two years ago," Avonworth coach Tim Giel said. "Last year, we had five kids and two of them qualified for the WPIAL tournament.
"This year, we have 11 kids entered and we're hoping to have at least six qualify for the WPIAL tournament. It's been a long time since Avonworth had this many kids entered in the section tournament."
Avonworth's top entries are Tyler Wisniewski (17-14 at 106), Darion Trimmer (18-12 at 126), Wes Bartholomew (23-9 at 138) and Ka'dale Coles (16-9 at 285).
Shady Side Academy, a bona fide wrestling power for the past decade up until last season, entered just one wrestler in the Section 3 tournament, Kyle O'Connor (0-6 at 170 pounds). The Indians did not wrestle a dual-meet schedule due to a lack of numbers, but did participate in a few tournaments.
9 champs return in Section 3
Cratsenberg is one of 11 wrestlers who won Class AA Section 3 titles last year as underclassmen. Only nine of those underclassmen are entered in Saturday's Section 3 tournament.
Keystone Oaks sophomore Brett Beltz and Valley junior Dylan Clarke have been scratched with injuries. Beltz, last year's 120-pound champ, sustained a broken thumb at the Allegheny County tournament. Clarke, last year's champ at 160, incurred a dislocated elbow at the Clearfield Duals. Both had planned to move up one weight class.
Burrell's Dakota DesLauriers (24-0 at 182) and Kittanning's Jason Nolf (32-0 at 132) are two-time section champions. DesLauriers won his previous titles at 171 and 182 and is the defending champion. Nolf is also a two-time WPIAL champion and one-time PIAA champ who has moved up to 132 after competing at 103 and 113 the previous two years.
At 132, Nolf is in the same weight class as Keystone Oaks' Nick Zanetta, who placed second in the WPIAL and PIAA at 126 last season.
"Nick had the option to move down, but he never really considered it," said J.J. Zanetta, his coach and brother. "You have to wrestle in the weight class that is most comfortable for you. Nick is very comfortable at 132. And besides, there are studs at every weight class. You can't avoid strong competition when you get to this level."
DesLauriers is one of four returning section champs from Burrell. The others are Steven Edwards (27-4 at 138), Phil Marra (22-5 at 145) and Corey Falleroni (23-4 at 152). All three have moved up one weight class.
The other returning section champions are Valley's Pat Dewitt (27-7 at 126) and Kittanning's Zac Croyle (19-9 at 195). Dewitt won at 106 last year, while Croyle won at 170.