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South Allegheny wrestlers set higher standards

South Allegheny had meager goals last season when it finished in second place in Class AA Section 3a and had to face perennial powerhouse Burrell in the WPIAL sectionals.

"I can honestly say that, last year, I said to them that we need to score on this team and minimize losing without scoring any points," South Allegheny third-year wrestling coach Tony DiGiorgio said. "That team last year was just stacked. They were beyond anything I've ever seen."

South Allegheny did manage to avoid being shut out, but still limped into the WPIAL team playoffs as a fourth-place qualifier after a 66-9 beating by eventual PIAA Class AA third-place finisher Burrell and a 48-35 loss to Keystone Oaks in the third-place consolation match. The Gladiators ended their season when they dropped a tough 49-32 decision to Jeannette at Chartiers-Houston in the first round of the WPIAL team playoffs.

A year has passed and, though South Allegheny will again face Section 3b champion and host Burrell in the sectionals on Wednesday, the Gladiators are eyeing more than just saving face against the Bucs this time around.

"I think that we match up well with some of our wrestlers and, if I move them around in the right spots, they have a lot better chance than they did last year and they understand that," DiGiorgio said. "We're definitely not going to lay down on them and they're going to get a fight from us."

Burrell may not have six individual state qualifiers like it did in 2011, but it remains one of the most formidable opponents South Allegheny will face. The Bucs are five-time defending WPIAL Class AA champions, have appeared in the last nine consecutive team finals matches and have won six titles overall in that time.

It will be a daunting task fir South Allegheny. Beating Burrell will take quite a bit more.

"I have a lot more hope that we can match up a lot better this year than we did last year, and last year was our first year in the playoffs in quite a while," DiGiorgio said. "This year, I think it's a different story because we have better matchups and I'm just going to put my wrestlers with theirs and see what happens. They're a tough team to beat and, to be the best you've got to beat them."

To have any chance of beating Burrell and moving into the section championship against the winner of the Keystone Oaks-Valley match, South Allegheny will need some outstanding individual performances from its top wrestlers. Tyler Minarchin in the 138-pound weight class will be one of the Gladiators keys to a potential upset as will Mike Whaby at 120 and junior 145-pounder Joey Sorrentino.

Still, the one thing South Allegheny will take into its match with Burrell will be the bitter emotions from that loss a year ago. Losing that was has been motivational for the Gladiators and has helped in their offseason training as well as their in-season preparations as they head into the playoffs.

"They're buying into what I'm trying to teach them and that is discipline and pride and to keep going at it," DiGiorgio said.

"I want them to keep getting better each year and get to the playoffs and keep punching it in until South Allegheny gets that section title that it's never had."

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