Burrell, Valley wrestlers prepare for individual tournaments

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 | 11:06 PM

During his days as a record-setting wrestler at Shady Side Academy, Dane Johnson always wanted to fast-forward to the individual portion of the season.

He enjoyed wrestling during the team season for the Indians, a perennial WPIAL contender, but he just liked the individual focus of the second half of the season more. And his new role as coach didn't lessen his enthusiasm.

“This last month, three weeks, that's what I look forward to the most,” said Johnson, now in his third season as Valley's coach. “I was extremely excited to do the sectionals, the WPIALs, the regionals and states. It was by far the most exciting time of the year and some of the best memories I'll have with my team and myself. Even now coaching, this is what I get most excited for.”

The individual half of the season begins this week in Class AA, with the sectional tournaments scheduled for Friday at Canon-McMillan and the WPIAL championships the next day.

Burrell, less than a week removed from the PIAA Class AA team tournament in Hershey, will refocus around its individual wrestlers. Riverview and Valley have been preparing for this part of the season the past couple of weeks.

“It's marked on the calendar for a long time,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “You're really team-focused for a long time, then all of a sudden that's over and boom, it's right into individuals.”

This weekend begins the process of qualifying for the state tournament in Hershey. The top seven wrestlers in each weight class at the WPIAL Class AA tournament advance to the PIAA Southwest regional Feb. 23-24 at IUP. The top six finishers there make it to Hershey.

“This is where everything counts,” Burrell senior Corey Christie said. “I can't wait to be back in Hershey again. That's the greatest place to wrestle, in the Giant Center, so I can't wait to hopefully get back there and get back on the podium.”

Just one of Burrell's current wrestlers, sophomore Trent Valovchik, reached Hershey last season. Valovchik won the WPIAL 106-pound title last season, beating Valley's Travis Lasko in the final.

“It was pretty awesome, just having the experience of going out there and seeing how good I could do, and then I ended up winning,” Valovchik said. “I learned that if you train hard and shoot your goals high, you can do whatever you want to.”

Valley junior David Schuffert came up just short of a WPIAL title last season, falling in overtime in the 285-pound final against Freedom's Evan Sweesy. That loss is just one of many motivating factors for him heading into the individual portion of the season.

“It really counts right here because if you're done, you're done,” he said. “Until next year. It's all about yourself now. That's what I like about it. It's the only reason I wrestle, pretty much.”

Johnson, the WPIAL's all-time wins leader with 182, counsels his Valley wrestlers about what to anticipate and how to have success.

One lesson? Focus on yourself and not your opponent.

“You cannot wrestle anyone by their name,” Valley junior Noah Hutcherson said. “I used to go out and wrestle people by what I heard about them. You cannot do that. You've just got to go out and wrestle your best. You win or you lose, that's just it.”

Shields schedules mostly individual tournaments instead of dual tournaments throughout the season for Burrell, partially to prepare his team for this part of the year. Like Johnson, he said he appreciates this part of the season the most.

“It's the whole survival aspect for each individual,” he said.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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