Canon-McMillan, Belle Vernon Area and Peters Township will be the best represented teams at the WPIAL Class AAA/Southwest Regional Tournament, which begins tonight at Norwin High School.
Canon-McMillan had 12 wrestlers qualify for the three-day tournament by placing among the top five in their weight classes at Saturday's Section 4 tournament, which took place at Moon Area High School. Eleven Big Macs wrestlers advanced to the finals and nine claimed gold medals.
"The goal is to get as many kids to Hershey as possible," said Canon-McMillan coach Chris Mary, referring to the site for next week's PIAA championships. "It would be great if we could match last year's total of eight qualifiers, but that will not be easy when you consider the level of competition in the WPIAL."
Five of Canon-McMillan's qualifiers have made previous PIAA appearances -- Dalton Macri (38-5 at 120), Connor Schram (37-3 at 126), Solomon Chishko (3-0 at 145), Cody Wiercioch (36-1 at 170), and Alex Campbell (33-6 at 220). All five won section titles on Saturday.
Belle Vernon set a school record with 11 qualifiers at the Section 2 tournament. The Leopards had six wrestlers advance to the finals and three captured gold.
"The old record was eight qualifiers [in 2008], so we're very pleased," Belle Vernon coach Jack Jolley said. "I know the WPIAL doesn't compile team scoring at the section tournaments any more, but I do think we would have won the team title. Connellsville had more champions [four] than we did, but they had only nine qualifiers."
Nathan Russo (31-4 at 126), Derek Verkleeren (24-6 at 145) and Adam Nickelson (34-1 at 182) won section titles for Belle Vernon. Nickelson was the Leopards only PIAA qualifier last year.
"In 2008, we had four PIAA qualifiers," Jolley said. "We have the talent on this team to match that total, but we will need to have all the stars in alignment."
Peters Township tied Belle Vernon with 11 qualifiers at the Section 2 Tournament, but the Indians didn't do as well in the medal matches.
"We were excited to get five in the finals, but disappointed that all five were beaten," Peters Township coach Jason Carpetta said. "It was an up-and-down day for us on Saturday, but the bottom line is that we have 11 kids going to the WPIAL tournament and only three are seniors. The experience of wrestling in the WPIAL tournament can only help our younger wrestlers."
Stating their cases
Russo, West Mifflin's James Harrison (29-1 at 113), Elizabeth Forward's Lukas Etzel (25-7 at 120) and Mt. Lebanon's Kellan Stout (30-3 at 170) have something in common. All four have suffered the disappointment of falling one win short of qualifying for a PIAA berth after placing fourth in the WPIAL.
Russo placed fifth in the WPIAL as a 103-pound sophomore and fourth at 113 last season. Harrison placed fourth at 103 as a sophomore and fifth at 106 last season.
"Jimmy has beaten some real good kids this year," West Mifflin coach Tony Salopek said. "His only loss was to a WPIAL Class AA champion [Derry's George Phillippi]. If he continues to wrestle the way he has all season, he will be heading to Hershey."
Etzel was sixth at 112 as a sophomore and fourth at 120 last season. Stout placed fourth as a freshman last season at 160.
"Kellan was so close last year as a freshman," Mt. Lebanon coach Bill Lewis said. "He was seeded ninth and knocked off a couple of [higher] seeds to get to the semifinals. We feel he is ready to take the next step and qualify for a trip to Hershey."