Alle-Kiski Valley wrestling notebook: Highlands makes WPIAL team tournament for first time since 2011

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 | 6:03 PM

For the first time since 2011, the Highlands wrestling team has qualified for the WPIAL tournament.

With an overall record of 12-2 and a section record of 4-1, Highlands earned a spot among the top four teams of Section 3-AA and will take on Elizabeth Forward on Wednesday in the first round of the sectional tournament.

Because Highlands is among the top four teams, it automatically earns a spot in the WPIAL Class AA team tournament that begins next week.

“It’s surreal,” Highlands coach Grant Walters said. “But at the same time, we aren’t done yet. It will all sink in at the end, and we’ll be able to take that all into consideration from where we’ve been the past nine years of me being here. But as of right now, the happiness that wants to be there is being pushed to the side because I don’t want these kids to think it’s over yet.”

Over the last few years, Highlands has been on the rise. Walters has built a youth program and instilled a winning culture, and the program is finally starting to see success.

Two years ago, the Golden Rams finished 3-11. Last year, they went 8-8 and were on the brink of a team tournament appearance but lost to Southmoreland, 45-24, in the fifth-place match.

“We had to crawl before we could walk, and we had to walk before we could run,” Walters said. “We took baby steps through the first couple of years. We had to dip our toe in the water, and we had to develop a culture. It seems like the culture has started to come. The work ethics are there, and the want to win is there.”

It has shown throughout this season. Highlands’ only non-section loss came against Pine-Richland at the North Hills Duals, and their only other loss came against defending WPIAL Class AA champion Burrell, 69-3.

But as the Golden Rams enter the postseason Wednesday, they are in a good place, one that Walters hasn’t seen before.

“They have good heads on their shoulders right now, and they are more focused than I have seen them all year,” Walters said. “They are all concerned with the rest of the team. They want the rest of the team to win. So we are, right now, more of a team than we ever have been, and it’s a great time to be that.”

First-round matches at the Section 3-AA tournament begin at 6 p.m. with the third-place and championship match beginning at 7:15 p.m.

Section tournament breakdowns

The run to a WPIAL championship begins this week, but first, teams must get through the section tournament. Two teams are looking to defend their section crowns.

On Wednesday, the three-time defending WPIAL Class AAA champion Kiski Area will head to Hempfield for the Section 1-AAA tournament. The Cavaliers have won the tournament for the past four years. They’ll take on Latrobe in their first-round match, and Hempfield and Norwin meet on the other side of the four-team bracket.

In Class AA, Burrell and Highlands will travel to Elizabeth Forward on Wednesday for the Section 3-AA tournament. The Golden Rams will take on host Elizabeth Forward on one half of the bracket, and 13-time WPIAL Class AA defending champion Burrell will take on Southmoreland. Burrell has won its past 16 section tournaments.

Allegheny County recap

Three A-K Valley wrestlers earned county titles at Fox Chapel over the weekend.

Jrake Buford’s county title was special. The 132-pounder became just the second Highlands wrestler to take home a county title, joining Billy Spencer (2003) on an elite list. Burford also took home the award for the most pins in the least amount of time.

Along with Burford, Plum’s Vince Citrano (113) and Ed Farrell (220) won county titles for the first time in their high school careers.

As a team, Fox Chapel placed 10th with 128 points from one champion, one third-place finisher and two sixth-place finishers. Highlands finished 15th, and Plum finished 19th.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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