Burrell wrestling relishes every WPIAL team championship
By: Doug Gulasy
Sunday, February 4, 2018 | 8:09 PM
As he basked in the fourth and final WPIAL team championship of his Burrell wrestling career, Shaun Gates looked in the rearview mirror at some of the challengers the Bucs vanquished in recent seasons.
Derry became the latest victim Saturday, as Burrell defeated the Trojans, 50-23, in the Class AA final to extend its record WPIAL championship streak to 12 consecutive seasons. Other Burrell victims in the past dozen years include Chartiers-Houston, Freedom, Jefferson-Morgan, Shady Side Academy and South Fayette.
Those programs and more did their best to end Burrell's streak. To this point, no one has.
“Everyone wants to beat us,” Gates said. “Take Derry. They've always been on us the past couple years. We just always seem to come together in the final. It's something to look forward to.”
Burrell's streak stands among the longest in WPIAL history in any sport, tied for fourth with Upper St. Clair girls golf and Clairton boys swimming, behind just Bethel Park boys swimming (20 seasons), Sewickley Academy boys tennis (14) and Norwin girls volleyball (13). Only Sewickley Academy holds a longer current streak.
With a streak of that length, Burrell goes into every WPIAL postseason confident.
But the Bucs don't take their success for granted.
“You can tell by the fight, by the activity we have on the bench. This is something we take serious,” said Josh Shields, who won his fifth title as Burrell's coach. “In the long term, yes, we've won 12 in a row. But all streaks come to an end eventually. So we enjoy each and every one, and each and every one, we come in and make it a dogfight.”
Burrell did that Saturday, overcoming a strong push from McGuffey in the semifinals to prevail, then rolling to victory over Derry, which was making its first appearance in a WPIAL championship match since 2007, which happened to be the year Burrell started its streak.
“A lot of it is the culture and the mentality that we breed here at Burrell,” assistant Chris Como said. “It's a family kind of atmosphere. Everyone's pulling for each other. When you feel that kind of camaraderie, it makes going to battle for one another a lot easier. You're willing to lay it out for your brothers. It's the mentality we pushed over the years, and it's probably been one of the key contributing factors to it all.”
The streak didn't happen overnight for Burrell.
Como, a former Bucs wrestler who was an assistant on their first WPIAL title team in 1997 and later led them to four more WPIAL titles and their only PIAA title as coach, remembered the days when the program lacked the depth it currently enjoys. Over years, that depth was built, and now Burrell can overcome injuries and other problems that might significantly hamper other programs.
Derry, for instance, was missing two key starters because of injury and had some reserves ill Saturday, and the Trojans forfeited two bouts — and 12 key points — in the championship against Burrell.
By contrast, Bucs wrestlers like Dominic Holmes and Noah Linderman capably filled in this season for senior Ethan Awes, who suffered an injury in late December and has yet to return.
Freshman Colby Christie joined the starting lineup last month and is contributing victories at 120 pounds.
“The difference between those teams is they have kids who stick it out,” Derry coach Mike Weinell said. “They come in, and they might not be a starter for a year or two, but they're there. The depth is a big difference in the program, and that's what we need to get to.”
Burrell has bigger goals than the WPIAL title: a PIAA medal, which the Bucs last achieved in Shields' first season as coach. But the Bucs are highly self-motivated. Wrestlers every year speak of not wanting to be the group to let the streak end.
To this point, they've kept it going.
“Even though it's a small step of what we want, it shows that our hard work has come together,” Gates said.