Top-seeded Burrell wrestling sets gold standard
As much as circumstances changed around the Burrell wrestling program over nearly the past decade — four coaches, dozens of wrestlers, a handful of challengers from around the area — one thing stayed constant: The Bucs kept winning the WPIAL.
With the playoffs beginning this week, Burrell is fielding one of its youngest teams as it looks to push its WPIAL Class AA title streak to nine.
Despite its youth, Burrell still has the faith of the WPIAL wrestling committee — which seeded the Bucs No. 1 — and its coach.
“I always think that being returning champs multiple times, it’s our title to lose,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “We always breed confidence; you’ve got to be confident when you step on the mat. We’ve got to preach that to these kids. They’ve got to believe we’re the best team out there. If anyone wants to win the WPIAL title, they’ve got to go through us to get it done.”
Burrell’s streak began in 2007, when the Bucs defeated Shady Side Academy in the final.
Chris Como, who coached that championship team and the two that followed, points further back for the foundation of the school’s success — to 1997, when Burrell won its first WPIAL wrestling title.
“A lot of it is all about setting a standard,” said Como, now a Burrell assistant. “I think that’s what has echoed over the years in our program. Once that bar’s been set, that becomes the gold standard to reach, and I think that’s what compelled teams to continue that tradition.”
That Burrell’s eight-year streak spans four coaches — Como, Ryan Yates, Bud Sines and Shields — speaks to the strength of the program itself, Shields said. It comes down to younger wrestlers watching the upperclassmen succeed, and then following their example when they become team leaders as upperclassmen.
“I’ve been around it my whole life,” said sophomore Dean Edwards, whose older brother Derek won WPIAL and PIAA championships with the Bucs in 2008. “It’s just become a way of life. It’s expected.”
Still, Burrell faced more questions coming into the season than many past teams. The Bucs lost six seniors from last season, including individual state qualifiers J.R. Andrejcik, Steve Edwards and Corey Falleroni.
Senior heavyweight Al Beattie was Burrell’s only returning state qualifier. But the Bucs’ sophomore class received plenty of experience last season, and freshmen Trent Bechtold and Corey Christie stepped into the starting lineup.
Senior Jason Roberts and juniors Damon Greenwald and Robert Scherer provided strong performances as well.
The Bucs wrestled top-flight competition at the King of the Mountain and Powerade tournaments and also competed against some of the top Class AA teams in the state at the Brookville Duals earlier this month. Though Burrell finished 1-4 at Brookville, Shields said he thought the competitiveness of the matches would bode well for the team in the long run.
Burrell bounced back from the Brookville duals by winning its 12th straight Section 3-AA title last week.
“I think we’re starting to peak at the right time,” Edwards said. “We’ve been here last year. A lot of the kids are returning. Even though we lost a few core starters, we just keep pushing all the freshmen. We’re trying to all get on the same ship and just ride it to another championship.”
Shields said Burrell is self-motivated to win WPIAL titles because no team wants to be the one to come up short.
“That can be a good thing,” Como said. “Pressure pushes us to excel and achieve our potential. All things aren’t meant to last; we don’t think (the streak) is going to go forever. But every team wants to step up, and they want to achieve that standard.”
Could Burrell’s streak end this season? Shields said he sees the Class AA field as more wide-open than in previous seasons, with No. 2 South Fayette, No. 3 McGuffey and No. 4 Jefferson-Morgan all serious contenders to take the Bucs’ crown.
But Burrell’s coach also believes his team has all the qualities of its eight predecessors.
“I didn’t know what to expect at the beginning of the year, but I’m confident in this group of guys that we have moving forward,” Shields said. “They’re going to go out there, and they’re going to battle. If they do that, I think the results are going to take care of themselves.”