Canon-McMillan's Solomon Chishko (right) is one of six returning starters from last season's PIAA team championship squad.
It didn't take long for Canon-McMillan wrestling coach Jason Cardillo to learn about the rich tradition at the Washington County school.
Even though he graduated from South Fayette and wrestled at Chartiers Valley as part of a co-op, Cardillo was well aware of why Canon-McMillan was such a powerhouse.
Cardillo, in his first year as Canon-McMillan's head coach, spent the past four years learning from Chris Mary, who resigned last spring after leading the Big Macs to four consecutive WPIAL Class AAA team titles and two PIAA titles.
He said the support of the community and school is unbelievable. And Cardillo is looking forward to continuing that tradition.
Canon-McMillan and Burrell in Class AA have dominated the WPIAL team tournaments. Burrell has won seven consecutive titles. Tradition, dedication and hard work is why these teams have continued to be strong, the coaches said.
As the WPIAL team tournament continues Wednesday, both Cardillo and Burrell coach Josh Shields are eager to see their teams defend their titles. Shields, a 2006 Burrell graduate, also is in his first season.
Canon-McMillan, seeded third behind Franklin Regional and Latrobe, will host Ringgold in a first-round match at 6 p.m. The winner will face the winner of the Hempfield and Belle Vernon match at 7:30.
“The past four years have been a great run,” Cardillo said. “It's a little different for me now that I'm the head coach. But we've been running things the same way that Chris did.”
Canon-McMillan (10-0) returns six starters from the 2012-13 squad — Brenden Price (113 pounds), Dalton Macri (126), Alec Hutchins (132), Josiah Hritsko (138), Solomon Chishko (145) and Malachi Krenzelak (152).
Before Canon-McMillan can look ahead to Friday's semifinals or Saturday's finals, Cardillo said his team must get through their first tests.
“We're not overlooking anyone,” Cardillo said. “We looked at the possible matchups against Belle Vernon and it could be a close match. If we get to Friday, we probably meet Latrobe, another tough team.”
While some teams try to build tradition, Cardillo said kids grow up in the Canon-McMillan School District wanting to be champions.
“We're fortunate to have good leaders,” Cardillo said. “We also have a good feeder program. The kids are usually ready when we get them.”
Burrell's tradition was started by former coach Chris Como, who was Burrell's coach from 1998 to 2009.
It's been a decade of dominance for Burrell, which won the WPIAL Class AA team tournament each of the past seven seasons and eight of the past 10. Coaching staffs changed and wrestlers graduated, but the winning continued.
“Now, wrestling at Burrell, it's like a cool thing to do,” Como said.
Those who helped turn Burrell into a powerhouse now lead the Bucs from the coaches' chairs.
“My freshman and sophomore year, we were the underdogs, and we weren't expected to win much,” Shields said. “We barely had enough kids to fill a whole team. And now, at every weight, we have kids that we're sending to JV tournaments.”
Teams such as Mt. Pleasant — which beat Burrell in the finals in 2003, ‘05 and ‘06 — and Shady Side Academy — which lost to the Bucs in the finals in 2008, ‘09 and ‘10 — no longer carry much clout in the WPIAL postseason.
Burrell, meanwhile, has thrived even during seasons when it relied heavily on underclassmen, as it did in 2012, when a lineup of four seniors, four juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen defeated Jefferson-Morgan, 34-31, for the title.
“It's really a community effort,” Shields said. “It starts at the youth level, where we have 100-plus kids every year. It's kind of like a machine, and it's our job to keep it going.”
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