Yough High School wrestling coach Jeremy Zufall said this season's squad could be the best he's had in nine years of coaching.
It could also be his last year.
"On paper, this team has the potential to be the best I've had," Zufall said. "We had only three seniors on last year's squad and none were starters. We have starters returning in every weight class."
Yough posted a 15-7 record last season, which included a 2-2 record in the postseason. The Cougars finished second in Class AA Section 2B, placed third in the section tournament, then advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals before losing, 42-30, to Bentworth.
"We have two team goals: Win the section title, then win the WPIAL title," Zufall said. "When you look at who is back for each team, we are one of four teams that have a legitimate shot of winning the WPIAL [Class AA] title."
Burrell, Kittanning and South Fayette are the other three teams Zufall is referring to.
"Burrell has won six straight WPIAL titles," Zufall said. "They have to be considered the favorite until somebody beats them. South Fayette and Kittanning are also a threat because both teams have almost everybody back."
Reaching both goals will not be easy, because Yough has never made it past the WPIAL quarterfinals. But Zufall has Yough on the right track. The Cougars have qualified for the WPIAL Class AA Team Tournament the past four years and claimed one section title in 2010.
Prior to his arrival, Yough had only one postseason appearance and one section title, both in 1988.
"This is my ninth season and could be my last as head coach," Zufall said. "I've been hired as the head baseball coach, and it will be very hard to be head coach of both teams. I will do it this year, but doubt I will come back. Everybody is trying to change my mind, but it's just too tough to do both."
Yough has nine starters returning who qualified for the WPIAL tournament last season, including four who advanced to the Southwest Region tournament, Cody Charles (26-14 at 106), Teddy Charletta (25-15 at 113), Tom Sever (17-12 at 220) and Christian Williams (22-13 at 285).
Other returning Cougars who had 20 or more wins are Mike Anderson (20-7 at 138), Doug Stange (22-9 at 152), Lucas Richardson (28-11 at 170) and Gary Fallecker (21-12 at 182).
Yough opens the season ranked No. 6 in the Post-Gazette's preseason WPIAL Class AA rankings.
Derry Area and Mount Pleasant are teams to watch in Section 2.
Derry lost four starters to graduation, including four-time PIAA champion and Penn State recruit Jimmy Gulibon and Cody Weinell.
"We've been hit hard by football injuries," Derry coach Mike Weinell said. "Jayme Howe and Clint Beeman are out after having shoulder surgery. Adam Beich is out with a knee injury, but should be back after Christmas."
Beich (24-17 at 285) is Derry's only returnee with 20 or more wins. Six others had double-digit victories.
"We have four freshmen and a sophomore starting this year, but I'm actually pleased at what I see," Weinell said. "We should be better than expected, despite the injuries."
Mount Pleasant had only two starters graduate. The Vikings, ranked No. 10, have five starters returning who recorded 20 or more wins last season, including Jonah Long (32-9 at 220), a section champion and WPIAL runner-up.
Long, however, is currently out indefinitely with an injury.
The others with 20 or more wins are Ethan Charlesworth (28-14 at 138), Bobby Long (20-4 at 145), Austin Mears (20-16 at 160) and Eli Holt (29-18 at 170).
In Section 3-AA, Burrell, Valley and Kittanning are the top three teams, and all three teams are ranked in the top 10. Burrell is No. 1, Kittanning is No. 3 and Valley is No. 7.
Burrell has made 10 consecutive appearances in the WPIAL title match and claimed seven titles.
The Buccaneers must replace four starters who graduated, but picked up a transfer to fill one of the holes.
Allan Beattie has returned to Burrell after posting a 26-13 record as a 285-pound freshman at Kiski School. Beattie's brother, Derrick (34-15 at 170), was a WPIAL bronze medalist for the Buccaneers last season as a sophomore, but starts the season on the injured list with shoulder problems.
Burrell's lineup features three PIAA qualifiers, Dakota DesLauriers (45-1 at 182), Steven Edwards (38-15 at 132) and Phil Marra (38-14 at 138). DesLauriers, a Mercyhurst recruit, is a two-time WPIAL champion and three-time PIAA place-winner who placed second in the PIAA last season.
Valley must replace three starters from last season who graduated, plus three others who have not returned to the team.
"We don't have a heavyweight, but we do expect to be in the hunt for a WPIAL playoff berth," Valley coach Steve Ansani said.
"Burrell has to be considered the team to beat, but we're not going to back down from them or anybody."
Valley has five starters returning who registered 20 or more wins last season, including a pair of WPIAL finalists: Pat Dewitt and Terrell Fields.
Dewitt (34-11 at 106) won section and WPIAL titles. Fields (35-14 at 182) placed second in the section, WPIAL and Southwest Region, thus qualifying for the PIAA tournament.
The Vikings other three returnees with 20-plus wins are Marcus Davenport (28-17 at 152), Dylan Clark (28-17 at 160) and Josiah Hughes (23-17 at 113).hsother