When the 2012-13 wrestling season ended, Franklin Regional and Greater Latrobe were being touted as two teams that could end Canon-McMillan's four-year domination of Class AAA.
Both teams boasted a young talented squad with a small group of graduating seniors. Since then both teams have benefitted from transfers that make them even stronger.
Franklin Regional came within five points of upsetting Canon-McMillan in the WPIAL title match, then placed third in the state en route to a 23-4 record. All but one starter is back.
"Our goal is to win a WPIAL title and go as far as we can go in the state tournament," Franklin Regional coach Eric Mausser said. "If we can stay healthy, we have the talent required to reach those goals."
Franklin Regional's lineup features four wrestlers who are two-time PIAA place-winners: Michael Kemerer (38-6 at 126), Tyler Smith (45-4 at 132), Josh Maruca (43-8 at 138) and Josh Shields (44-6 at 145). Smith won a PIAA title last season and Kemerer is a two-time runner-up.
Since the season ended, Frankin Regional has added two transfers from the Saegertown School District to its lineup: Spencer Lee and Devon Brown, although Brown is still awaiting final word on his eligibility.
Lee is considered the top freshman in the state, while Brown is a junior who won a PIAA Class AA title at 106 pounds last season. Both represented Team USA at the 2013 FILA Cadet World Championships.
Lee's family moved to Murrysville after his father accepted a new job at Carnegie Mellon University. Brown moved to this area with his grandfather, who has had heart problems and wanted to be closer to better cardiac care.
"Devon was ruled ineligible by the WPIAL," Mausser said. "He's appealing the decision and will have a hearing with the PIAA during the first or second week of December. He's practicing with us with hopes of winning the appeal."
Latrobe lost two starters to graduating, but picked up three via transfers. Ethan McCoy and Dom Scalise have transferred back to Latrobe after spending last season at Kiski School, a private college prep school in Saltsburg. McCoy was a national prep runner-up at 106 as a freshman, while Scalise placed third at 160. Scalise was a two-year starter at Latrobe prior to his year at Kiski School.
"Ethan and Dom are both from our school district," Latrobe coach Tad Harbert said. "It's a bonus to have them back in our program."
Latrobe's other transfer is Jake Willochell, a junior who started the past two seasons at Derry.
"We have a lot of experience returning," Harbert said. "Franklin Regional is the team to beat in Section 1 and in the WPIAL. We're hoping to give them a run for their money. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Latrobe's lineup includes three wrestlers who qualified for the PIAA tournament last season, including Luke Pletcher (41-2 at 106), who claimed a PIAA title as a freshman. The other two returnees who have participated in the PIAA tournament are Zack Zavatsky (42-2 at 160) and Jake Shaffer (34-11 at 138).
"Section 1 is stacked again this year, but that's the way we like it," Mausser said. "We have five teams in this section that should be ranked among the top 10 in the WPIAL."
Kiski Area, Greensburg Salem and Hempfield Area are the other three teams Mausser is referring to.
Kiski Area placed fourth in the WPIAL last season. The Cavaliers must replace five starters who graduated, including two-time PIAA finalist and Penn State recruit Matt McCutcheon.
The Cavaliers have four starters back who registered 25 wins last season -- Ryan Hardaway (26-7 at 120), Jake Adelitz (25-13 at 132), Tyler Worthing (31-11 at 170) and Shane Kuhn (42-1 at 285). Kuhn was a PIAA bronze medalist last season.
Greensburg Salem lost four starters who graduated, and a few others for various reasons.
Daniel Walters posted 19 wins as a freshman for the Golden Lions, but transferred to Hempfield and is no longer wrestling. Lukas Mangery did not return to the team after winning 15 matches last season.
And most importantly, senior Anthony Cable "is not with the team for personal reasons". Cable is a three-year starter who has 88 career wins.
"There is a chance Anthony will return to the team," Greensburg Salem coach Randy Parsley said. "We'll just have to wait and see."
Parsley also lost two freshmen who are injured but would have started. One is out for the season. The other may return later in the season.
Hempfield lost four starters to graduation and had another transfer. The Spartans top returnees are Ricky Cavallo (24-6 at 113), Sam Krivus (40-3 at 120) and Joey Alessandro (29-9 at 132). Krivus is a two-time WPIAL champ and one-time PIAA champ. Cavallo sustained a broken ankle a couple weeks before the postseason tournaments last season.
"Ricky wrestled at the Super 32 Tournament, so he's ready to go," Hempfield coach Vince DeAugustine said.
Central, Plum look strong
Central Catholic and Plum are both expected to do well in Section 3.
Central Catholic lost four starters to graduation. The Vikings top returnees are Vincenzo Joseph (26-9 at 120), Kyle Coniker (33-9 at 152) and Zach DeLuca (40-10 at 220). DeLuca won a WPIAL title, while Joseph is a two-time runner-up.
Only two starters graduated at Plum. The Mustangs top returnees are Tommy Zummo (27-14 at 120), Eric Green (26-12 at 138), Zach Martin (25-14 at 152) and Andrew McRandal (25-11 at 170).