As we approach the first weekend of December, it’s time to start counting down to the big day.
I’ve made a list and checked it twice, but this has nothing it do with Santa Claus or Christmas.
It’s almost wrestling season, so here is a glance at some of the noteworthy events on tap.
Dec. 10-11: Conemaugh Township Holiday Tournament. While it’s not as big as some of the other events in the region later in the season, it’s a great way to check out what’s happening on the local scene.
With eight teams – including locals Greater Johnstown, Richland and Westmont in addition to the host school – in a round-robin format, it offers a nice preview of the season.
Dec. 17-18-19: Sheetz Holiday Classic at Penn Cambria, King of the Mountain at Central Mountain and the Beast of the East at Newark, Del., makes for a long weekend that provides something for every fan.
The Penn Cambria tournament – held Dec. 17-18 - features some of the top local talent, with nine area schools competing, as well as some from outside the region, all within a short drive.
The King of the Mountain event, which includes Bedford and is held on Dec. 17-18, is loaded with PIAA powerhouses, though it is a bit farther away.
For passionate fans, the Beast of the East tournament, which is held Dec. 18-19, is well worth the 41/2-hour drive.
Wrestlingreport.com calls it the toughest tournament in the nation, and will provide a challenge for New Florence twins Robert and Evan Henderson, who wrestle for The Kiski School.
Dec. 14: Westmont Hilltop at Somerset. The Golden Eagles’ young talent has fans and coaches across the region buzzing. This should provide an early answer as to how good they are.
Dec. 21: Bedford at Westmont Hilltop. The Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference championship often comes down to this match, and this will go a long way toward naming a favorite.
Dec. 23: Chestnut Ridge at Bedford. It often could be labeled the Battle for Bedford County, but Northern Bedford might have something to say about that this season. Either way, when these rivals meet it’s always intense and always well-attended, so be sure to get there early.
Dec. 29-30: If you couldn’t make it to the Beast of the East, the POWERade Tournament might be just the ticket.
Held at Canon-McMillan High School near Washington, Pa., this event is ranked as the nation’s fourth-best by wrestlingreport.com. Westmont Hilltop will be participating for a fourth consecutive season while the Kiski School is making its first appearance, giving local fans another chance to see the Hendersons take on some of the top wrestlers in the nation.
Jan. 4: Westmont at Forest Hills. Another strong LHAC matchup, as the now AAA Hilltoppers square off against one of the top Class AA teams in District 6.
Jan. 13: North Star at Bedford. It’s always entertaining when these longtime District 5 powerhouses get together, and it will provide a preview of some key District 5 matchups.
Jan. 14-15: Already the state’s largest dual-meet tournament, the Richland Duals just keep getting bigger and better. The event, which features 35 schools from a number of different districts around the state, is so large it is held in four separate gyms – two at the new Richland High School and two at the old facility, which is now Penn Highlands Community College.
Jan. 18-19: Forest Hills at Bedford. If the LHAC title hasn’t been determined yet, it effectively could be here, as the Bisons look for a fourth consecutive championship.
Jan. 25: Somerset at Bedford. The Bisons, who suffered a spate of injuries in the preseason, could be getting healthy at the right time of the season.
Jan. 28-29: Thomas Automotive Tournament at Bedford. There’s plenty to get revved up about here, as the Bisons play host to some of the best teams in the region and a few from outside of it.
Feb. 5: District 5 and District 6 Dual-Meet Championships. The top-seeded team in District 5 will host the semifinals and final, while Tyrone will once again welcome the best in District 6. The one twist this year is that Westmont Hilltop should be contending for a championship in Class AAA instead of Class AA.
Feb. 11-12: PIAA Dual-Meet Championships at Hershey. The state’s top teams will once again gather in the Giant Center to crown a champion. Local teams are often well-represented here, but it’s hard to imagine any bringing home gold this season.
Feb. 18-19: District 6 Class AA Tournament at Altoona. Juniata joins the mix to help make up for the loss of Westmont Hilltop, meaning that this will still be a top-notch tournament as well as the first step on the road to the individual state tournament.
Feb. 25-26: District 5 Class AA Tournament at Windber and District 6 Class AAA Tournament at Altoona: District 5 will have a new look, as Somerset will compete alongside its county rivals for he first time in three decades while Greater Johnstown will no longer be the lone local team in District 6 Class AAA. Westmont Hilltop should be a threat to contend for the Triple-A team title.
March 4-5: Southwest Regional Class AA Tournament at Johnstown and Northwest Regional Class AAA Tournament at Altoona: Johnstown always plays host to some of the top wrestlers in the state, and with two-time AAA champion Jimmy Gullibon of Derry moving down to Class AA, it might just feature one of the nation’s best. Any Westmont or Johnstown wrestlers who made it out of the district will be looking for a chance to advance to states.
March 10-12: PIAA Championships at Hershey. The top wrestlers in what most consider to be the nation’s best state for the sport will meet once again at the Giant Center with pride and glory on the line. A number of local wrestlers should be among the favorites to bring home gold, as Richland heavyweight John Rizzo and North Star lightweight Nick Roberts have already done it once apiece.
Eric Knopsnyder is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat.