The Avonworth High School wrestling program is finally turning the corner.
"We have 18 kids on the roster," said Avonworth coach Tim Giel, who four years ago took over a program that was close to being dropped. "We started my first season with five kids and finished with only one."
"I had to convince the administration to give me another year to get our numbers up. It's been a struggle, but we're finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel."
Avonworth had 11 wrestlers finish the 2012-13 season. All but two are back this season.
"We had one senior on last year's squad and no seniors this year," Giel said. "We're a very young team."
Giel also lost a young wrestler from last year's quad.
"Tyler Wisniewski won 19 bouts for us last year as a 106-pound freshman," Giel said. "He decided not to wrestle this year so he can concentrate on cross country running. It's a real shame, because Tyler would have been one of the top 106-pounders in the WPIAL."
Avonworth has three wrestlers returning who posted 20 or more victories last year: Darion Trimmer (21-15 at 126), Wes Bartholomew (24-12 at 138) and Ka'Dale Coles (21-14 at 285).
"Darion, Wes and Ka'Dale are all juniors who have started since their freshman year," Giel said.
Avonworth finished second in Class AA Sub-Section 3A last year and qualified for the WPIAL team tournament.
"Our goal is to win our sub-section and qualify for the WPIAL tournament again," Giel said.
Avonworth opens its season tonight at the Chartiers-Houston tournament.
"We've been going to the Char-Houston tournament since I took over," Giel said. "We took our lumps the first year. It's a good challenge for us."
Avonworth and the host Buccaneers are joined in the 25-team Chartiers-Houston tournament field by Beaver Area, Bentworth, Beth-Center, Brashear, Butler Area, Carrick, Charleroi Area, Chartiers Valley, Elizabeth Forward, Freedom Area, Jeannette, Keystone Oaks, Mercer, Montour, Moon Area, North Hills, Peters Township, Pine-Richland, Shady Side Academy, South Fayette, South Park, South Side Beaver and Upper St. Clair.
Peters Township has two returning champions in Ty Buckiso and Italo Merante. Buckiso claimed the 132-pound title, while Merante claimed the 138-pound crown.
The other returning champions are Butler's duo of Connor Faust and Ryan Hannon, Charleroi's Nick Gavazzi and Upper St. Clair's D.J. Wilding. Faust and Hannon won at 113 and 182. Gavazzi is a two-time champion, the last coming at 145. Wilding won at 160.
NA competes in Eastern
North Allegheny will have a full lineup at the 36th annual Eastern Area Invitational, which will take place Friday and Saturday at Gateway High School in Monroeville.
"This is the first time in four years that we've had a full lineup in our opener," said North Allegheny coach Jamie Kyriazis, referring to the fact that North Allegheny's football team made three consecutive appearances in the PIAA tournament. "This year, our kids on the football team can start their wrestling season on time."
North Allegheny is joined in the 20-team Eastern tournament field by Allderdice, Belle Vernon Area, Bethel Park, Blackhawk, Burgettstown, Gateway, Jefferson-Morgan, Kiski Area, Kiski School, Kittanning, McKeesport Area, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Norwin, Penn Hills, Penn-Trafford, Plum, West Mifflin Area, Woodland Hills and Yough.
The Tigers have two returning champs, Dom Forys and Jesse Rodgers. Both are three-time finalists and two-time champs at the Eastern. Forys won at 120 last year, while Rodgers was at 138.
Kiski Area's Shane Kuhn is also a three-time finalist and two-time champion, all at the 285-pound weight class. Kittanning's Jason Nolf and Jefferson-Morgan's Brendan Howard are also two-time champions.