South Xtra: A record field to compete in West Mifflin tournament

HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING

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West Mifflin wrestling coach Tony Salopek isn't sure how long the Titans have sponsored the Steve DeAugustino Holiday Classic, but he is sure of one thing.

"This tournament has been around for a long time, but we've never had 30 teams before," Salopek said. "I originally thought about going up to 32 teams, but we cut it off at 30. The most we ever had was 26 teams. Last year, we had 24."

Salopek is not surprised by the jump of six teams from last year's field.

"The PIAA changed its rules for dual-meet tournaments," Salopek said. "Two-day dual tournaments now count as double. That gives the traditional individual-style tournament more value for your points."

Teams attending the DeAugustino Holiday Classic will be charged three scheduling points.

"When I heard about the [scheduling] rule changes, I knew we would have more teams," Salopek said. "So it doesn't surprise me that we have so many teams."

West Mifflin is the defending team champion, but Salopek realizes that repeating will not be easy. The Titans had 11 place-winners last year, and six were seniors.

"We graduated 11 seniors from a very solid team," Salopek said. "I don't see a favorite. There are at least a half-dozen teams that have a legitimate shot of winning the team title."

West Mifflin's top two entries are James Harrison and Jim Keys. Harrison is a two-time finalist who placed second at 113 last year and won at 106 as a freshman. He returns at 113 for this year. Keys is back at 220 after placing third last year.

Fox Chapel and Mt. Lebanon were second and third in the team standings last year.

Fox Chapel had eight place-winners last year and five have graduated. The Foxes have two returning finalists, Jared Rice and Tyler Lever. Rice has moved to 113 after winning the 106-pound title last year. Lever returns at heavyweight after placing second last year.

Mt. Lebanon has four of eight place-winners returning, including Kellan Stout, who has moved to 170 after winning at 160 as a freshman. Sam White has moved to 120 after placing fourth at 106 last season.

"It's been at least 10 years in a row," said Mt. Lebanon coach Bill Lewis, when asked how long the Blue Devils have been attending the DeAugustino Holiday Classic. "The tournament is well run and has a nice cross-section of the WPIAL."

Also in the 30-team field are Albert Gallatin, Ambridge Area, Avonworth, Belle Vernon Area, Brashear, Cambridge Springs, Carlynton, Carrick, Hopewell, Keystone Oaks, McKeesport Area, North Hills, Obama Academy, Penn Hills, Plum, Richland, Shady Side Academy, Shaler Area, South Allegheny, South Fayette, South Park, Thomas Jefferson, Upper St. Clair, Washington, Westinghouse, Woodland Hills and Yough.

"We have three seniors, four juniors and 21 sophomores on this year's team," Lewis said. "I brought up a lot of freshmen last year, so we're still a young team."

Mt. Lebanon may be short-handed for the tournament, as four Blue Devils have been affected by injuries and/or sickness.

"We'll just have to wait and see who is available," Lewis said.

Lewis said Belle Vernon is a team to watch. The Leopards have two returning champions and a runner-up. Nate Russo and Brenden Hasson won at 113 and 120 last year, while Adam Nickelson won at 182. Hasson has moved up to 120, Russo is up to 126, and Nickelson is back at the same weight.

All wrestlers competing in the tournament will have a 3-pound weight allowance. The PIAA's 2-pound weight allowance kicked in on Christmas Day. Wrestlers received another pound allowance for this tournament, however.

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