North Xtra area wrestlers got a chance to flex their muscles last Saturday at the Class AAA Section 3 tournament at Fox Chapel.
Now they get to showcase their talents at the WPIAL Class AAA/Southwest Region tournament. But the stakes are much higher this time, as a trip to Hershey is the prize.
Seventy wrestlers from Section 3, the top five in each weight class, advanced to the WPIAL tournament, which begins tonight at Norwin High School. They join 210 qualifiers from the other three sections with the goal of earning a berth in next week's PIAA tournament at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Twenty wrestlers will participate in each weight class, but 17 will see their season come to an end. Only the top three get a chance to wrestle in Hershey.
"It's so hard to qualify for the state tournament with only three berths in each weight class," North Hills coach Jose Martinez said. "The competition at this level is so strong."
North Allegheny heads up the Section 3 contingent with 11 qualifiers, while Hampton and Butler Area tied for second with 10 qualifiers each. North Hills had eight qualify and led the section with four champions.
"Our section was even more competitive this year with the addition of Central Catholic and Plum," Hampton coach Joe Bursick said. "We may not have the depth of Section 1, but Section 3 will be well represented at Hershey this year."
Last year's Section 3 alignment produced eight PIAA qualifiers. Two have graduated and one is no longer in the section as Hopewell was reassigned to Section 4. That leaves five returning PIAA qualifiers from Section 3.
North Allegheny's dynamic duo of Dom Forys (36-2) and Alex DeCiantis (28-2) have made four previous trips to Hershey, two for the PIAA team tournament and two for the PIAA individual tournament.
Both Forys and DeCiantis claimed their third consecutive Section 3 titles Saturday at Fox Chapel.
Forys pinned Butler's Connor Foust in the 113-pound title match. DeCiantis recorded a 20-7 major decision victory in the 182-pound final against Hampton's Justin Aippersbach.
Forys, a junior, placed second in the WPIAL as a 103-pound freshman, then placed third last year at 106. He also finished third in the state.
"Forys is on a mission," Butler coach Scott Stoner said. "If he wrestles with the intensity he showed in the section tournament, he will be tough to beat."
DeCiantis, a senior, is a two-time bronze medalist in the WPIAL tournament. He posted a 1-2 record in both of his previous PIAA appearances.
"I expected Dom to be the top seed considering he beat [No. 2 seed Waynesburg's A.C.] Headlee last year," said North Allegheny coach Jamie Kyriazis, referring to Forys' 3-1 win in the WPIAL consolation for third place. "It's just the opposite with DeCiantis."
DeCiantis was pinned by Belle Vernon's Adam Nickelson in the 170-pound semifinals last year. With that in mind, the WPIAL steering committee seeded Nickelson No. 1 and DeCiantis No. 2.
The other three returning PIAA qualifiers from Section 3 are Hampton senior Jake Hart (36-1), North Hills senior Tyler Walker (31-1) and Butler senior Blake Caudill (32-5).
Hart placed second in the WPIAL and PIAA last season at 195 pounds, losing both titles to Central Catholic's Perry Hills.
"Jake faces another stiff challenge in the WPIAL tournament," Hampton coach Joe Bursick said. "Last year it was Perry Hills. This year it's Matt McCutcheon."
McCutcheon (31-0), a senior from Kiski Area, won WPIAL and PIAA titles at 182 last year and has moved up to 195.
Walker earned his first PIAA berth last season by placing third in the WPIAL at 120. He's seeded third behind Canon-McMillan's Connor Schram, a three-time PIAA finalist, and Franklin Regional's Michael Kemerer (31-5), a PIAA runner-up last year.
"The 126-pound weight class is stacked," Martinez said. "It could be the strongest weight class in the entire tournament."
Caudill placed third in the WPIAL at 113 last year. He's moved up to 120 and not done as well as expected. After winning two section titles, Caudill placed third Saturday.
"Blake has struggled this year," Stoner said. "It doesn't help that he's in a tough weight class. He needs to wrestle much better this weekend to qualify."
Hampton's Kevin Synan (32-6) was also a disappointment in the section tournament. Synan lost, 6-4, to Central Catholic's Chris Nuss in the 145-pound title match.
"That was the fifth time they've wrestled this year and was the first time Nuss beat him," Bursick said. "Nuss caught Kevin for a five-point move in the first period and held on for the win."
Central Catholic's Vincenzo Joseph (19-7) is also a returning PIAA qualifier. Joseph, a WPIAL runner-up at 103 last season, moved up to 120 and claimed a Section 3 title Saturday.