One of the largest high school wrestling events in Pennsylvania could have a different look near the top this year.
Central Catholic coach Sunny Abe is hoping that won't be the case at the Allegheny County tournament, set for Friday and Saturday at Fox Chapel.
Much like last year, when Central Catholic finished third behind champion North Allegheny and runner-up Hampton, the tournament will consist of roughly 40 teams competing in around 600 bouts.
Unlike last year, Central Catholic will be without one of its two winners and two of its three second-place finishers.
Back are senior Kyle Coniker, last year's 152-pound winner, and senior Vincenzo Joseph, who lost to North Allegheny's Dom Forys in the 120-pound final. The Vikings will be without runner-ups Justin Alexander and Chris Nuss, who graduated.
The loss that really hurts, though, is that of senior Zach DeLuca, last year's 220-pound winner, who starred as a defensive end on the football field.
“Basically, he decided he's got to pursue his football career in college, so he called me and said he's not interested in competing in wrestling this year,” Abe said. “There's a possibility he may still come back.”
It's clear by Central Catholic's season so far, including losses to Fox Chapel, North Hills and Hampton in Class AAA Section 3-B dual meets, that it doesn't have the same veteran presence as last year.
“Everybody experiences that. Every year we lose somebody, but they get replaced by younger guys,” Abe said. “We are very fortunate to have the kids step up every year. Of course we miss those guys, but what are you gonna do? You've got to move forward.”
Coniker and Joseph are the only Central Catholic wrestlers who are seeded in the tournament.
Coniker is second in the 170-pound group behind Noah Wilps of Chartiers Valley, and Joseph is second in the 138-pound ladder behind South Park's Jake Wentzel.
Both seniors hope to prove themselves in new weight classes.
For the Vikings to stay among the elite teams in the county, they are going to need contributions from someone other than their two stars.
Along with junior Tony Palumbo (145 pounds), Abe is hoping that senior heavyweight Adisa Branch will be one of those guys.
Last year, Branch was knocked out in the first round of the tournament, but his coach expects a different result this time.
“I just don't think it's going to be any issue as far as pressure or anything like that,” Abe said. “He's just going to go out there and do his thing.”
Forys, the top seed at 126 pounds, is looking for his fourth Allegheny County title, while North Hills' Gage Curry (106 pounds), a sophomore, and senior Jonathan Avon (160), seeded third, also are returning champions.
North Hills' Michael Bonsmann (220 pounds) joins Curry as a top seed, and Greg Bulsak (152) joins Wentzel (138) for South Park. Mt. Lebanon has three No. 1 seeds — Kellan Stout (182), Bakhtiyar Zaynullaev (195) and Zeynul Zaynullayev (285).
Other top seeds include McKeesport's Kevin Statler (113), Shaler's Mike Heinl (120), South Fayette's Mike Carr (132), Plum's Eric Green (145) and Pine-Richland's Brendan Burnham (160).
Wrestling begins at 10 a.m. Friday. The finals are at 6 p.m. Saturday.
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