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Burrell’s PIAA wrestling qualifiers try to deal with extended downtime | TribLIVE.com
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Burrell’s PIAA wrestling qualifiers try to deal with extended downtime

Patrick Shuster
| Thursday, March 2, 2017 8:06 p.m
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Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Jefferson Morgan's Gavin Teasdale wrestles Burrell's Dillan Jeffrey (left) in their 126-pound championship bout during the PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional tournament Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, at Kovalchick Center in Indiana.
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Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Jefferson-Morgan’s Gavin Teasdale wrestles Burrell’s Dillan Jeffrey in the 126-pound bout during the WPIAL Class AA championship at Canon-McMillan on Saturday Feb. 18, 2017. Teasdale won 20-8.

The inside of the wrestling room at Burrell neither looks nor smells like Cambria County War Memorial, the Johnstown hockey arena built in 1950 that hosted the PIAA Class AA Southwest Regional individual wrestling championships for a number of years.

Nor does it resemble the Canon-McMillan gymnasium, which hosted the regional championships in 2015 and 2016, or IUP’s Kovalchick Complex, which served as home base for the regionals Feb. 24-25.

Until March 7 arrives and Burrell leaves for Hershey, though, coach Josh Shields and his five PIAA tournament-qualifying Bucs will try to imagine they’re finishing a state tournament tune-up and not just sweating for more than a week straight within the familiar and friendly confines of their room. That’s a wise way to deal with the irregular Class AA individual postseason schedule, which left a two-week gap between the regional round and the state tournament that begins Thursday at Giant Center.

“For the most part, these guys, they realize this is the end,” Shields said. “They realize all they have left is one more tournament. When you look at it that way, I think it motivates them more.”

Throughout the past decade, the Class AA postseason unfolded as a four-weekend build-up. First came sectionals. The WPIAL championships followed. Then came regionals. For a fortunate few, the PIAA championships waited at the end.

But the PIAA Southwest Region’s desire to acquire IUP’s Kovalchick Complex for regionals led to creative scheduling. The section and WPIAL championships happened on consecutive days out of necessity. Wrestlers and coaches found themselves with more free time and less of a week-to-week rhythm.

“I feel like the week is going to drag,” 126-pound senior Dillan Jeffrey said. “It’s going to be a really slow week. But we’ll train hard, heal up and hope for the best.”

Jeffrey is part of a fortunate foursome of Bucs. Freshman 106-pounder Trent Valovchik, sophomore 113-pounder Bryan Gaul, junior 120-pounder Trent Bechtold and Jeffrey spent this season challenging one another at practices.

As four of Burrell’s five state qualifiers, nothing about their routine changes.

“That’s why we have the same achievements as individuals,” Bechtold said. “We’re all looking out for each other and trying to push each other.”

Senior 182-pounder Anthony Marra, meanwhile, continues to drill with whichever teammates are willing to drop by. Sophomore 160-pounder Austin Mele worked out with Marra on Monday, and Shields expected junior Shaun Gates (152 pounds) and Corey Christie (145) to possibly make a few practices.

Shields also offered his own services as a practice partner. And just to keep all of his wrestlers guessing, he planned to invite a few grapplers from other schools to practices to diversify the styles in the room.

Nothing about the aesthetics of Burrell’s practice room prepares the grapplers for the magnitude of Hershey’s Giant Center. At least the guys who scramble around on the mats fit right in at the state championship scene.

“There’s a saying in wrestling: ‘You can only be as good as your practice partner allows you to be,’ ” Shields said. “Definitely as far as organizing and running practices, it’s convenient having the four weight classes in a row.”

Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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