There is one thing you can count on when the WPIAL team wrestling tournament is held in the winter: Connellsville will be in the bracket.
Since the WPIAL began the team tournament in 1979, Connellsville has qualified all 35 times. It also has been in the WPIAL finals 13 times and has seven titles.
Connellsville (18-2) is seeded fourth in the Class AAA tournament, which began Monday with four preliminary-round matches.
The Falcons earned a home match in the first and quarterfinal rounds by winning the Section 2 tournament last week. Connellsville will wrestle Hempfield (10-3) at 6 p.m. Wednesday. A win puts them in the quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. against the winner of the Kiski Area-McGuffey match.
“It's an honor to be the only team to qualify for the tournament every year,” Connellsville coach Tommy Dolde said. “There is something to be said of consistency. When you run a program, you don't compromise your ideals. Tradition never graduates.
“We've run the same program since my dad (Tom) began the program. The Junior Olympic and junior high programs have run the same, and nothing changes at the high school level. The Junior Olympic program continues to pump out outstanding talent.”
Connellsville's rotating lineup consists of three freshmen, eight sophomores and five seniors, and there are 17 sophomores.
The seniors are Ethan Kenney (138 pounds), a two-time PIAA placewinner and a WPIAL champion as a freshman, John Berardinelli (113), Tyler Steele (145), Shawn Dewitt (152) and Dylan Miller (220).
“We're still a year away,” Dolde said. “We have some talented kids who can't break into the lineup.”
Connellsville will be tested by a tough Hempfield squad. The Spartans wrestled Monday and defeated Hopewell, 46-28. The Spartans won the final six matches to rally for the win.
“Connellsville always has a solid lineup,” Hempfield coach Vince DeAugustine said. “I've never seen a weak Connellsville team. It's always good to wrestle them, they always battled you. Nothing comes easy.”
DeAugustine said keeping the match close in the upper weights Monday was the key. Anthony Lavella (160 pounds) trailed 7-1 in his match and came back with a pin.
“That was a big win,” DeAugustine said. “I knew starting at 145 we'd fall behind. We're definitely stronger in the lightweights.”
Ricky Cavallo (113), Sam Krivus (120), Joey Allessandro (132), Sean Lavella (138), Jesse Giallonardo (145) and Dom Nania (170) have been the Spartans' big guns.
Canon-McMillan, the returning WPIAL and PIAA champion, is seeded No. 1. Franklin Regional is No. 2 and North Allegheny is third. Canon-McMillan has won eight WPIAL titles, including the past three.
Franklin Regional earned its first section title by defeating Kiski Area last week. The Cavaliers will play host to North Hills. Belle Vernon and Latrobe also will tangle at Franklin Regional.
Greensburg Salem will head to North Allegheny to face Butler, while the Tigers will host Mt. Lebanon.
In Class AA, Burrell (No. 1), Chartiers-Houston (No. 4), Jefferson-Morgan (No. 3) and South Fayette (No. 2) will host matches. Burrell has won eight WPIAL titles, including the past six.
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