Belle Vernon Area's rookie wrestling coach, Tyler Nauman, is looking forward to seeing the Leopards in action for the first time.
His squad is entered in the Eastern Area Invitational, which begins Friday at Gateway High School in Monroeville.
"I've seen what my kids can do in practice and at a few scrimmages, but competing in a tournament is much different," said Nauman, who was a four-year starter at the University of Pittsburgh. "I'm excited to see what the kids can do."
Belle Vernon is one of 20 teams entered in the two-day, double-elimination tournament. The Leopards finished fourth in last year's team standings.
"We are shooting for a top-three or top-four finish," Nauman said. "I'm not familiar with all the teams, but I hear North Allegheny and Kiski Area are the teams to beat."
Also entered in the tournament are Allderdice, Bethel Park, Blackhawk, Burgettstown, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Jefferson-Morgan, Kiski School, Kittanning, McKeesport, Norwin, Penn Hills, Penn-Trafford, Plum, West Mifflin, Woodland Hills, Yough and the host school, Gateway.
"We have a good mix of returning starters and newcomers to the lineup," Nauman said. "But we're very young. Seventy-five percent of the kids on our roster are either freshmen or sophomores."
Belle Vernon had two champions and a runner-up at last year's tournament. The two champions -- Nate Russo and Adam Nickelson -- have graduated. The runner-up was Derek Verkleeren, who advanced to the 145-pound final in his varsity debut as a freshman.
"Derek will be competing at 145 or 152," said Nauman, in a Sunday interview. "We have wrestle-offs on Tuesday."
The Leopards also had a pair of bronze medalists at last year's tournament, as Brandon Hasson and Austin Bell placed third at 120 and 160, respectively.
"I have high expectations for this group of kids, but they have to prove it to me on the mat," Nauman said. "If we wrestle up to our potential, we could give North Allegheny and Kiski Area a run for their money in the team race."
Five of last year's individual champions are back.
* North Allegheny's duo of Dom Forys and Jesse Rodgers are three-time finalists and two-time champions. 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. Nolf is also a three-time WPIAL champion and two-time PIAA champ.
Nauman has two freshmen to watch this season, but one will not be available until January.
"Billy Korber is a freshman to watch at 195 pounds," Nauman said. "Jarod Verkleeren [Derek's younger brother] is recovering from an upper body injury sustained over the summer. He's out until January."
The 19th annual Chartiers-Houston Tournament will take place Friday and Saturday at the Buccaneers' gym.
The Buccaneers are joined in the 25-team field by Avonworth, 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 a pair of returning champions in Ty Buckiso and Italo Merante.
The other returning champions are Butler's duo of Connor Faust and Ryan Hannon, Charleroi's Nick Gavazzi, Upper St. Clair's D.J. Wilding and Southmoreland's Jake Beistel.
Montour's Cole Macek won a title at the Eastern Invitational last year.