From the bright lights of Reno, Nev., to the even bigger spotlight of the PIAA championships in Hershey, Canon-McMillan is out to have an unprecedented wrestling season.
The Big Macs have a busy December that includes the Walsh Ironman tournament this weekend, Powerade tournament Dec. 28-29 and the Reno Tournament of Champions next week.
That will mark the first time the decorated Big Macs program ventures that far for a prestigious national tournament. But it's another first Canon-McMillan wants even more: Becoming the first team to win four consecutive WPIAL Class AAA team championships.
“We've still got a lot of fire in the oven,” Big Macs coach Chris Mary said. “It's a different calendar year, so we cherish what we've accomplished — but that's last year. It is time to turn the page and move on with a new, different group of kids.”
Canon-McMillan set a WPIAL record with eight placewinners at the PIAA championships this past March in Hershey. Three graduated, but the Big Macs return five big wrestlers.
The group of seniors Cody Wiercioch, Connor Schram and Alex Campbell and juniors Dalton Macri and Solomon Chishko has already combined for three PIAA individual championships, six appearances in a PIAA title match, nine PIAA semifinal berths and 13 trips to the Giant Center podium.
“We've got a great group of kids who are willing to make sacrifices and work hard,” said Mary, the reigning state coach of the year. “We hold them accountable to that work ethic, and we still have big goals at Canon-Mac with looking to defend the WPIAL title and ultimately the state title.
“It's a long season, and we need to stay as healthy we can through the grinder ... in December then hopefully peak at the right time as a team at the end of January.”
The Big Macs also won the PIAA team championship last season and, on the basis of the eight-placewinners' performance in Hershey, the team title at the PIAA individual tournament.
At the Class AAA level, Canon-McMillan has matched North Allegheny (1986-88) as the only schools to win three consecutive WPIAL team championships.
Equally exclusive clubs are four-time PIAA individual finalists and three-time champions. Schram and Wiercioch both have opportunities to do the former; Wiercioch can accomplish the latter.
Wiercioch, a Pitt recruit who spent his first two years of high school at Charleroi, won PIAA gold at 170 pounds last season.
“He definitely is one of the best 170-pounders in the country,” Mary said. “Being in the state finals three years and winning two titles, what a great achievement. But it's not going to be easy this year. There's a big bull's-eye on him. But he knows that and will handle it well.”
Schram, who will attend Stanford on a wrestling scholarship, has been a PIAA runner-up each of the past two seasons after winning gold at 103 pounds as a freshman. He will likely settle in at 132 pounds this season.
Campbell also will be a college athlete, though it might be in football as he is also a standout linebacker/tight end for the Big Macs. After winning the WPIAL and placing third in the PIAA at 138 pounds last season, Chishko will not wrestle in December because of an injury, but Mary warned not to count him out for postseason honors in the 145-pound division.
Macri took second in the WPIAL and fourth at the PIAA championships as a 113-pound sophomore last season. He has been bumped up to 120 pounds.
“We've got some depth, we've got some experience but we've also got to get a lot of kids mat-ready with some of our younger kids,” Mary said. “If we can gain some experience in all weight classes, we hope to ultimately have everybody prepared for the team tournament.”
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