Burrell chasing 15th straight section tournament title
Wednesday, January 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Shaun Gates admits to not knowing the exact number of consecutive section team tournaments Burrell won.
Given the length of the streak — the total is 14, by the way — plus the Bucs' 101-match section winning streak, Gates can be forgiven for losing track somewhere along the way.
But although the number somehow lost meaning, the magnitude did not.
“It's awesome to think that a team like us, there's been multiple teams like this before,” said Gates, a senior. “It just shows that throughout this whole 100 wins-plus, these teams have worked just as hard as us, if not harder. It just shows the brotherhood of Burrell is always growing stronger and stronger.”
Class AA No. 1 Burrell will begin the WPIAL wrestling postseason by hosting the Section 3 tournament Wednesday night. The Bucs (5-5) will face Quaker Valley (8-5) in one semifinal, with the winner advancing to face the winner of the semifinal between Valley (3-1) and South Fayette (9-5).
As in most years, Burrell — also the 11-time defending WPIAL champion — begins the tournament as a heavy favorite.
“You don't necessarily have to win the section, but it starts ramping you up for the WPIAL and the PIAA state tournament,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “In our eyes, it's step one. In order to put ourselves in the best position to accomplish step two, we've got to perform in step one.”
Burrell faced just three section opponents during the regular season — Riverview, Summit Academy and Valley — because Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic did not field a team and Jeannette formed a cooperative agreement with Class AAA school Hempfield, so Wednesday will give the Bucs a look at some other competition. They did beat South Fayette at last weekend's Brookville “Ultimate Duals,” but the Lions are still a perennial Class AA contender.
“There's going to be a lot of good matches in that first match (against Quaker Valley) that for us to accomplish our goals as a team, we need a complete team effort, top to bottom,” Shields said. “Regardless of the team, you've got to be consistent with it. You can't expect to just show up the day of the WPIAL finals and put your best match up there. You have to do it consistently.”
And then there's the motivation factor: when a team wins more than 100 section matches in a row, nobody wants to see it end.
“It's a dynasty, and every year we try to keep it rolling,” senior Corey Christie said. “Nobody wants to be that bad team to end it. It's kind of in your mind, everybody in the back of their head. Nobody wants to be on that team that ends the streak, so we just are never going to let it end.”
By finishing in second place in Class AA, Section 3B, Valley advanced to the WPIAL playoffs for the third consecutive season. And the Vikings are looking to set up a rematch with Burrell by knocking off South Fayette in the semifinals.
Valley posted strong victories over Riverview and Summit Academy during the regular season, but the absence of four wrestlers because of illness, plus another four forfeits, led to a 60-12 loss to Burrell in the section finale.
Coach Dane Johnson said he hoped to see the wrestlers return in time for the section tournament.
“It's part of life, part of wrestling,” Johnson said after the match. “I'd rather have it happen (for the Burrell match) than at the end of the season. But it's still disappointing.”
Like Burrell, Kiski Area begins the WPIAL wrestling postseason with the aim of defending a WPIAL championship — the Cavaliers won the Class AAA crown last season.
That process begins with the Section 1 tournament Wednesday at Hempfield. Class AAA No. 2 Kiski Area (11-1) will face Greensburg Salem in the semifinals, with the winner advancing to the finals against the winner of Hempfield and Armstrong.
“I really try to keep our team focused on one thing at a time,” Kiski Area coach Chris Heater said. “But obviously our guys know it's one of the many steps we hope we get to take. The first thing in front of us obviously is the section tournament. Greensburg has a nice team and so does Hempfield, and we wrestled Armstrong last week. We're looking forward to it, but obviously we've got to deal with Greensburg first.”
Section 1-AAA traditionally is one of the most difficult sections in the entire state, with powerful teams like Franklin Regional and Latrobe joining Kiski Area in past seasons, and now No. 3 Hempfield (15-0). Both Kiski Area and Hempfield are ranked in the top 10 in the state.
“I don't know how many sections get to say that they have two teams ranked in the top 10,” Heater said. “I think we are still showing the strength of our section even at the state level.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
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