Burrell, Kiski Area prepare for ‘business trip’ in Hershey
By: Doug Gulasy
Tuesday, February 6, 2018 | 6:24 PM
Kiski Area may swing by Hershey's Chocolate World sometime this weekend after competing in the PIAA wrestling tournament.
But the Cavaliers have a bigger treat in mind for their third consecutive appearance at Giant Center.
Fresh off defending its WPIAL Class AAA team championship, Kiski Area enters the PIAA championships Thursday with a goal of the first state title in school history — and, at the very least, a third straight medal. Likewise, Burrell believes it can earn a medal in the Class AA tournament after winning its 12th consecutive WPIAL title last week.
“The first thing on our list is we're going there to wrestle,” Kiski Area coach Chris Heater said. “I tell the kids it's not a family vacation; we're going on a business trip.”
Burrell (10-5) will face District 4 runner-up Muncy in the first round, while Kiski Area (18-1) will take on District 3 third-place finisher Central Dauphin.
Burrell and Kiski Area have plenty of familiarity with the state tournament. Burrell, a yearly participant since its WPIAL title streak began, won a PIAA championship in 2008. Kiski Area finished as runner-up in 2003, fifth in 2016 and third last season.
Burrell is aiming for its first PIAA medal since 2014, coach Josh Shields' first season.
“We haven't placed since then, and we've only won one match the last four years we've been there,” he said. “So I'm definitely expecting we need to go in there and contend for a medal.”
It's a goal easier said than done. Pennsylvania ranks among the best states in the country for wrestling.
“Going up there just gives you so much experience on the mat,” Kiski Area junior Cam Connor said. “Those matches are huge, so the young kids get the experience for the next coming years. That's why our team's so good: because we're always in those competitive matches, and wrestling those hard matches just help you overall in the long run.”
Burrell and Kiski Area wrestle difficult schedules during the regular season in anticipation of a potential trip to Hershey.
In addition to facing each other in a nonsection match, the Bucs and Cavaliers also competed in the Powerade Christmas Tournament and Westmoreland County Coaches Association tournament. Burrell added a nonsection match at Waynesburg and trips to Brookville Duals — there the Bucs faced defending state champ Reynolds and contenders Brookville and Chestnut Ridge — and the King of the Mountain and Thomas Chevrolet individual tournaments. Kiski Area traveled to Canon-McMillan for a nonsection match and faced other top WPIAL contenders in Hempfield and Waynesburg.
“We've wrestled the Chestnut Ridges, the Brookvilles, the Reynoldses,” Shields said. “We know where we're at in the state. We know if we wrestle one or two points better, we're going to be in the hunt for a state medal. And that's what I'm expecting: Carry this momentum, carry this fight into (this) weekend at Hershey.”
With a medal the minimum goal, the teams feel confident because of the way they wrestled coming down the stretch of the WPIAL postseason. Shields said he believed the Bucs wrestled their best match top to bottom in a 50-23 victory over Derry in the WPIAL title match.
Kiski Area, hampered by injuries earlier in the season, got healthy late and posted a hard-fought win over Canon-McMillan for the WPIAL Class AAA title.
Now comes the big test.
“It's a lot of fun. It's exciting at times, it's stressful at times,” Heater said. “It is the state tournament, and it is the Pennsylvania state tournament. It's one of the best states in the country, so it's exciting to be there and be a part of it.”