At least once a week during the winter, Kiski Area senior Joey Blumer travels to a Burrell wrestling stronghold on Leechburg Road and stares down a few foes from the neighboring program.
These encounters are not confrontations, though. Blumer and the Bucs, though loyal to their respective teams, are not enemies, at least not in the way once considered normal among grapplers from Kiski Area and Burrell.
When Burrell hosts Kiski Area on Tuesday night in the latest nonsection dual meet between the Alle-Kiski Valley wrestling powerhouses, Blumer and several other Cavaliers will clash with Bucs they know all too well after dozens of training sessions at the Mat Factory, a facility and club run by former Burrell coaches Isaac Greeley and Chris Como.
Greeley and Como remain close to Burrell’s program, but their club represents a haven for most of the Alle-Kiski Valley’s top wrestlers, including Blumer, a Penn State recruit. The Mat Factory is a prominent reason the line that divides Burrell and Kiski Area wrestling blurs more than it did years ago.
“My freshman and sophomore year, I didn’t go to the Mat Factory too much, so I hated Burrell,” Blumer said. “But once I started going there and started practicing with all of them and got to know all of them, it’s not as bad. Obviously, I still want to beat them as badly as I can.”
One of the popular picks to win the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament, Kiski Area again enters the dual meet as a heavy favorite over Class AA Burrell. The Cavaliers won each of the last five meetings by at least 13 points.
Whether the Bucs’ skid against Kiski Area continues is a minor matter for Burrell coach Josh Shields, who doubts a better opponent will come along in Class AA at any point this season, including in the playoffs.
“We don’t measure stuff based on wins and losses,” Shields said. “We measure stuff on sort of the process of winning — how we performed, and how we trained leading up to our performance.”
For most of the Bucs, that training includes weekly stops at the Mat Factory. High school allegiances fade away inside the walls of that wrestling room. Blumer welcomes the work he gets with Burrell junior Corey Christie. Burrell senior Dillan Jeffery and Kiski Area senior Matt Siszka partner up without hesitation.
“Me and him get along pretty well,” Jeffrey said. “It’s normally pretty even. Me and him go back and forth.”
Workouts at the Mat Factory and other wrestling clubs made some of the best individual rivalries in recent Burrell-Kiski Area history all the more intriguing. Heavyweights Al Beattie, a PIAA champion for Burrell in 2015, and Shane Kuhn, a three-time PIAA medalist for Kiski Area, knew each other’s styles well. So did Matt McCutcheon, a PIAA champion for Kiski Area in 2012, and Dakota DesLauriers, a PIAA champion for Burrell in 2013.
And during the portion of the season dedicated to PIAA accolades, Kiski Area and Burrell wrestlers ultimately cheer for one another. Any animosity that exists between the Cavaliers and Bucs only lasts for the few days before and after the dual meet.
“If I see them outside of the match, we’re friends,” Burrell freshman Trent Valovchik said. “It’s just a rivalry on the mat.”
The timing of this season’s match is unusual — it’s Burrell’s first competition of any kind and Kiski Area’s first dual meet.
Neither coach considers the situation ideal, but both prefer this match happen over foregoing it because of scheduling conflicts.
“We always look for quality opponents, and Burrell gives us that every year,” Kiski Area coach Chris Heater said. “Burrell is a technically sound and well-coached team. It’s another opportunity to get some high-caliber matches early in the season.”