Burrell begins quest for 7th straight team wrestling title
Burrell wrestling can confirm there is no correlation between winning WPIAL championships and overcoming, say, the flu.
“You know what they say,” Buccaneers coach Bud Sines said, referring to his team's recent bout with flu-type illness. “Once you get something, you don't get it again.”
That certainly isn't true when it comes to Burrell's pursuit of team titles. This isn't chicken pox.
Just check the trophy case — six titles in six years and a potential seventh to come.
Burrell has provided goosebumps rather than sniffles while creating a contagious championship virus that has pushed the thermometer to the top of the medal stand.
The half-dozen consecutive titles already is a WPIAL record. The seventh would just add to the legacy.
Burrell, which has eight wrestling team titles overall, has built one of the most powerful programs in A-K Valley history. Another title will tie it with Springdale boys soccer for the most in local history (nine).
No local team, though, in any sport, has won this many titles in a row. If anything, Burrell has made opponents feel ill during its historic run.
But even the top programs don't dominate forever, and the Bucs (12-5) know the seventh title might be the most challenging to defend.
Burrell, the top seed in Class AA, will open the postseason 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at home against the winner of Ellwood City and Mt. Pleasant, who wrestle at 6 at the same site.
“We have a solid team; it's a matter of maybe a matchup or two that we need,” said Sines, who guided Burrell to a title last season, his first. “Maybe we have a couple of freshmen come through for us. You never know. These things can be fickle.”
During the title streak, Ryan Yates coached the team to two titles and Chris Como the first three.
Burrell has made 10 consecutive appearances in the WPIAL finals and also won titles in 1997 and 2004 before its current run. The Bucs won a state title in 2008.
Como, who still serves as an assistant and works with wrestlers at The Mat Factory training facility in Lower Burrell, helped build a proud, don't-mess-with-us tradition in the program.
Sines is just trying to keep that intact.
“They talk about a ‘Burrell style,' ” Sines said. “Burrell dominates and pounds guys. You hope the younger guys grow to believe they can do the same thing. Wrestling has a mentality here. That's the way they operate.”
Como said the key to success is not spending too much time reflecting on the past. It's raise the trophy, then roll out the mats the next morning to start all over again.
“There were years when we didn't have holes in the lineup,” Como said. “You knew what you were getting. My mantra when I was head coach was never to lower the bar. You don't want to be the team that doesn't win.”
Como said his best teams were from 2008-11.
“Both had similar goals,” he said. “The common denominator was senior leadership.”
The mood hasn't changed in Burrell's wrestling room, the hole in the wall above the gymnasium where attitudes are forged.
“This year is no different for us,” Burrell senior 182-pounder Dakota DesLauriers said. “We prepare the same as we always do. Sometimes you have to pause and stop at where we're at and what we need to be, but we continue to train the same.”
Not that Burrell is shying away because it's not the clear favorite.
“Winning is sweeter when you're not expected to win,” DesLauriers said with a smile. “It's tough to keep something like we've done going. But we don't want to stop. We're going full blaze.”
Despite several ill wrestlers, Burrell rolled to another Section 3-AA title Wednesday — its 10th in a row — while stretching its winning streak against section foes to 78.
Last year, a self-proclaimed “down year on paper,” Burrell willed its way to another title. The Bucs trailed top-seeded Jefferson-Morgan, 25-0, five matches in during the finals but rallied for a 34-31 victory.
“I think about (the first time) we wrestled Kittanning (this season) and the way we won,” Sines said. “It felt like when we won the championship last year. (Cory) Klems pinned his opponent in overtime, (Corey) Falleroni gets a takedown with 30 seconds left against a quality kid. It just felt special.”
Sines thinks Burrell may need the same magical drama to raise another trophy. Somehow, despite all of the wins, each Burrell team has managed to carve out its own personality, a different portrait on the Wall of Fame.
“The real challenge with this (year's) team is trying to find an identity,” Como said. “We've been battling injuries and have had kids in and out of the lineup. They have that same tradition set before them. They want to live up to those lofty standards. It's always a challenge.”
South Fayette is considered by many to be the favorite in Class AA. The Lions rose to No. 1 in the Trib Total Media rankings following a runaway win over previous No. 1 Chartiers-Houston. They're the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
“People in the know had that picked early,” Sines said of South Fayette's success. “I can see the strength of their team.”
Current wrestlers can't even remember the last time the Bucs lost to a Class AA team. That's just a chicken-pox scar now.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the Local Sports Editor of the Valley News Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.