Burrell's 1st-year starters prepare for PIAA wrestling's grandest stage
As talk of the team aiming to place in the top three or four in PIAA Class AA bounced around the Burrell wrestling practice room this past November, freshman 106-pounder Dean Edwards tried not to let the magnitude of the long-term goal bother him.
Three months later, on the eve of the PIAA Class AA team championships in Hershey, Edwards still finds himself grappling with the tall task in front of the Bucs.
“I have a little bit of butterflies just knowing what we have a chance to do out there and what past teams have done,” Edwards said. “We're trying to be one of the most decorated teams to ever walk in this wrestling room, and it's just crazy to think about.”
For the bulk of Burrell's starting lineup, a trip to Hershey's Giant Center for the team championships is nothing new. The Bucs, eight-time defending WPIAL champions, are regulars in the PIAA tournament, so each of Burrell's returning starters or key backups possesses at least some knowledge of how large and noisy the crowd grows inside the cavernous 10,500-seat venue. But for the new members of Burrell's lineup, the Giant Center — and opposition that awaits — might come across as startling if not downright daunting.
“I'm usually pretty nervous when I walk out on the mat, but as soon as the whistle blows, it all kind of goes away,” said Edwards, who's been to the Giant Center a few times to watch his older brother Derek, a member of Burrell's 2008 state title team.
Burrell (11-3) begins the team tournament at 2 p.m. Thursday against District 3 runner-up Hamburg (18-3). The team championships conclude Saturday night.
Edwards is one of three freshmen who played a key role in Burrell's 32-28 victory over South Fayette in the WPIAL finals.
While 113-pounder Dillan Jeffery and 126-pounder Anthony Marra delivered technical falls, Edwards, who is 4-9 in dual meets this season, did his part by limiting the extent of his loss to South Fayette junior Andrew John, who improved to 25-9 with a close 6-5 win.
“I listened to my match on MSA (Sports Network) afterward, and they were talking about how (South Fayette) needed six points out of (John), and they were expecting to get six,” Edwards said. “They compared our records, and they weren't even close — not even in the same ballpark. After listening to that, I couldn't help but smile.”
Burrell's hopes of medaling in the PIAA tournament hinge on the ability of Edwards and others like sophomores Alex Moses, Jason David and Robert Scherer to either pull off upsets or lose close.
“I've preached the message to these guys all year: Guys like (seniors) Steve Edwards, Corey Falleroni, Nick Pattock, they can't win us a team medal,” coach Josh Shields said. “Can they help? Certainly. But the most they can do is get us six points. It's going to take guys with less credentialed backgrounds giving us 100 percent effort to achieve our team goal, and that's to come home with a medal this weekend.
“We have a really good group of freshmen and sophomores. When I look at those guys and envision three, four years down the road, I see a class that has as much potential as our seniors now. They have the potential to be just as good if not better than the seniors that are leading this team now, and that's great to see. They've got the first part down — the toughness, the heart, the desire. It's up to me to fine-tune their skills and get them to the next level.”
Burrell's youngsters proved their mettle in the WPIAL finals. Edwards' and Jeffery's bouts were two of the final three in the match. And at 195 pounds, Scherer, a first-year starter, secured at 5-0 decision that slowed South Fayette's comeback effort.
“I feel like no matter how big the crowd is, I'm going to pull my job off, which is to do whatever I can for my team,” Jeffery said.
Added Scherer: “I'm hoping to win all of my matches (in Hershey). … I think I step up to the occasion.”
Scherer never has visited the Giant Center, though he has been inside neighboring Hersheypark Arena. Jeffery has been inside the Giant Center once. Among the first-year starters, Marra, the brother of 2013 graduate Phil Marra, is the seasoned vet of Giant Center visits.
“I feel completely confident going into this — no butterflies because I feel like I'll do great out there,” Marra said. “I always said when I was up in the stands that I can't wait to be down on that floor.”