Norwin High School wrestling coach Todd Schuchert has fond memories of his four appearances at the Eastern Area Invitational wrestling tournament.
"I was a four-time champion," said Schuchert, a 2001 Norwin graduate. "I also won the OW [Outstanding Wrestler Award] in 1999 and 2000. Norwin has been coming to the Eastern Area tournament for as long as I can remember, at least 20 years."
The 36th annual Eastern Area tournament will take place Friday and Saturday at Gateway High School. Norwin and the host Gators are among 20 teams entered in the two-day, double-elimination tournament.
"We've been averaging 18-20 teams over the past few years," Gateway coach R.J. Santilli said. "We had our biggest field -- 22 teams -- a few years ago."
Also entered in this year's field are Allderdice, Belle Vernon Area, Bethel Park, Blackhawk, Burgettstown, Jefferson-Morgan, Kiski Area, Kiski School, Kittanning, McKeesport Area, North Allegheny, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, Penn Hills, Penn-Trafford, Plum, West Mifflin Area, Woodland Hills and Yough.
"Kiski Area has won four straight titles," Santilli said. "With that thought in mind, Kiski has to be considered one of the favorites. North Allegheny and Belle Vernon are also strong. I wouldn't be surprised to see it come down to a three-team battle for the title."
Santilli is even more impressed with the overall field.
"This is one of the strongest fields we've had in quite a few years. We have some of the top Class AAA teams in the WPIAL," said Santilli, also noting the presence of Norwin, Plum and Bethel Park. "We also have four of the top 10 teams in Class AA -- Jefferson-Morgan, Burgettstown, Yough and Kittanning."
North Allegheny finished a disappointing sixth in last year's team standings, but had a good reason.
"This is the first time in four years that we've had a full lineup for the tournament," 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 has two returning Eastern Invitational champs, Dom Forys and Jesse Rodgers. Both are three-time finalists and two-time champs. 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.
Norwin's Kevin Miller, a runner-up at 106 last year, is one of seven silver medalists from last year's tournament who were underclassmen.
Kiski Area is an annual participant.
"This is the 36th year of the tournament and we've participated all but one year," Kiski Area coach Chuck Tursky said. "It's a great way to start the season. There's always good wrestling in the finals."
The tournament begins at 4:30 p.m. Friday. Saturday's parade of champions begins at 6:15, followed by the finals.
Jayhawks open on road
Jeannette is entered in the Chartiers-Houston tournament, which will also take place Friday and Saturday.
The Jayhawks and Buccaneers are among 25 entries. The other participants are Avonworth, Beaver Area, Bentworth, Beth-Center, Brashear, Butler Area, Carrick, Charleroi Area, Chartiers Valley, Elizabeth Forward, Freedom Area, 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.