Burrell captures 11th straight WPIAL team wrestling crown
Presumably at some point in the future, Burrell wrestling coach Josh Shields or perhaps his successor will curse the coin flip, lineup bump or unforeseen scramble that costs his team a WPIAL championship.
The list of coaches who longed for just one more break to go their team's way against Burrell in the Class AA team tournament final grew by one name Saturday.
Freedom coach Jim Covert became the latest to see a lineup he considered title-worthy bested by Burrell, which extended its run of WPIAL dual meet championships to an unprecedented 11th year. The No. 1 seed Bucs topped the No. 3 Bulldogs, 44-27, in the final at Chartiers-Houston.
It served as a rematch of last season's final, which Burrell won over the Bulldogs, 48-17.
Both teams, as well as third-place finisher Derry, advance to the PIAA team tournament, which begins with preliminary-round matches Monday. First-round matches start Thursday at Giant Center in Hershey.
Burrell increased its WPIAL Class AA title count to 13 overall by bumping up its middleweights and piling up bonus points at the lightweights. Trent Valovchik (106 pounds), Trent Bechtold (120), Dillan Jeffrey (126) and Ethan Awes (132) gave the Bucs' a 24-3 lead just five bouts into the final.
“We stressed to our guys all year that these types of matches, dual meets in championship situations, are won by bonus points,” Shields said. “And it's not just the scoreboard. That swings momentum to your end.”
Shields shifted 145-pounder Corey Christie, 152-pounder Shaun Gates and 160-pounder Austin Mele up one weight class each. Christie delivered a 17-0 technical fall. Covert forfeited to Gates in order to pit senior Dean Ward against Mele, a move that surprised Shields.
Ward rallied to win 9-7 in the tiebreaker portion of overtime and held off a Burrell clinching for at least one more bout. But senior Anthony Marra ended Freedom's hopes of a comeback with a 4-2 overtime win at 182, which made the team score 38-15 with three bouts remaining.
“I didn't find out until right before the match,” Christie said of the bump. “But everybody had to be ready to wrestle. It was going to take a team effort to win this thing. … Austin had really tough match, but anybody on this team will wrestle any weight.”
Covert knew Freedom's chances at a title rested in the heavier weights. He anticipated most of Burrell's bonus-point wins at the lighter weights. Awes' pinfall of Jake Pail at 132 caught him by surprise.
“He'd never been pinned before,” Covert said. “I wasn't counting on that, and that kind of got us. But (the Bucs) were gritty.”
Derry, which lost to Burrell, 44-18, in the semifinals earlier in the day, seconded that sentiment. The Trojans recovered with a 49-21 win in the consolation match over South Fayette, which also fell to Freedom, 38-30, in the semifinals.
“We're improving, and that's all you can ask for,” Derry Area coach Mike Weinell said. “Obviously we wish we had a better match against Burrell. They're the gold standard. … We want to be there (at Burrell's level). But that's good. Hopefully they understand that they can wrestle with them and not just wrestle (the Bucs') jersey or singlet.”