Burrell’s Cooper Hornack sets championship goals for senior season

Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | 6:14 PM

There’s a fresh, new banner in the Burrell gymnasium for Cooper Hornack’s state championship last year.

Hornack would love to put another one right beside it.

If he can win a second consecutive state title, he’d be only the second Bucs wrestler to do so, joining Joe Makara, who did it in 2002 and ’03.

That’s on the list of goals for Hornack, a Columbia recruit, in his senior year — along with helping Burrell win an 18th WPIAL Class 2A team championship after consecutive years of finishing as the runner-up.

“I talk to (1997 Burrell state champion) Joel DesLauriers all the time and he tells me that I have to win another one to shut Joe up, because he’s always bragging about it,” Hornack said with a laugh. “I’m going to try to do it. It’s not any different, because you still have to put the work in just like you do the first time. Nobody is going to hand it to you. I visualize it, though. I think about it all the time. It’s hard not to.”

Burrell lost to Burgettstown in the team finals last year and was topped by Quaker Valley two years ago. Those losses came after a run of 15 titles in a row, which Hornack was a part of his freshman season.

“There were a lot of tears in the locker room the last two years, especially after that first loss,” Hornack said. “I really want to win it for (Burrell coach Josh Shields), because he does so much for us. He puts a lot of time in training us, and I want to do my part to get this team ready so we can get that dynasty back going.”

Along with Hornack, Cam Baker and Isaac Lacinski are returning state qualifiers. Baker had a superb freshman season, going 41-11 as was a runner up at WPIALs and fourth-place finisher at states at 106 pounds.

Lacinski was also a runner-up at WPIALs and placed fifth at regionals.

Julian Bertucci, Luke Boylan, Calio Zanella and Nico Zanella all placed in the top five at WPIALs last year and qualified for regionals.

That gives Burrell seven returning regional qualifiers and an excellent core as the Bucs try to return to the top of WPIAL Class 2A.

“All good teams that I’ve been on have had good leaders more than just the coaches and Cooper has filled that role,” Shields said. “Isaac Lacinski has done a good job stepping up as well going into his junior season. The goal is always to win the WPIAL title and place top four in states. Being so close to it definitely drives us.

“I think we’ll have a very balanced team this year with some guys that will be contending for a state title.”

A-K Valley teams are split into two sections. Burrell is in Section 6 with Riverview, Valley, Derry, Greensburg Salem, Indiana, Ligonier Valley.

Highlands is in Section 5 with Knoch, Laurel, Ellwood City, Hampton, North Catholic and Summit Academy.

The Golden Rams won the Section 5 title last year and made it to the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals before falling to Frazier.

They are led by junior Aiden Burford, who finished 35-9 and was a regional qualifier at 139 pounds.

Other key returners include Javeon Chambers, who won 27 matches as a freshman, and Angelo Markey and Julius Saunders. who each won more than 20.

James Naviglia, Ryan Middleby, Bryce Black and Nyema Calhoun also return. New additions to the team are Burton Babinsack, DJ Suber, Jayden Calhoun and Liam Roberts. Kyren Veasley, a transfer from Valley, won 26 matches last year as a sophomore.

Highlands coach Grant Walters believes his team has the ingredients to defend its section title and go for more.

“Our goals are the same. Win the section, go to the WPIAL tournament, make some noise and make it to Hershey for states,” Walters said. “Highlands is reloaded and looking to turn some heads this year.”

Valley returns senior standout Charles Perkins, who missed qualifying for states by one win.

Perkins (160 pounds) finished 30-12 and was fourth at the WPIAL tournament.

Other returning Vikings who won 20 matches last season were seniors Darnell Coaston and Ryan Long.

Knoch has eight starters back from a team that finished third in Section 5 and qualified for the WPIAL 2A team tournament.

Owen Layhew (152) won 21 matches as a freshman. Miranda Lajevic (107) placed seventh at the girls state tournament.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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