In year like no other, Burrell wrestlers look to capture 15th straight WPIAL title

Tuesday, December 8, 2020 | 7:47 PM

Even during a pandemic, there’s not a year that goes by when the Burrell wrestling program isn’t in the mix for a WPIAL Class AA championship.

It’s no secret the Bucs have won 14 straight WPIAL titles, and if they are able to complete their season this year, they are looking to bring home No. 15. But, at the moment, just being in the wrestling room is good enough for them.

“This is a year unlike I’ve ever experienced, unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with, but I know the excitement with the kids is there,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “With everything going on and getting into the swing of things, for the two or three hours they are in the wrestling room each day, things somewhat go back to normal and you can just focus on getting better.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the world at the end of last year’s winter sports season, the Bucs won their 13th straight WPIAL championship with a 63-9 victory over Burgettstown in the Class AA finals. With a number of starters returning, including PIAA individual runners-up in Ian Oswalt and AJ Corrado, the Bucs are just as confident this season.

Corrado (152) and Oswalt (132) combined for 90 wins last season as they worked their way onto the podium at the PIAA tournament. The Bucs also return four other starters who won 20 matches or more.

Niko Ferra (106) and Nick Salerno (120) both qualified for the PIAA tournament and won more than 30 matches. Shawn Szymanski (113) also crossed that 30-win threshold and placed sixth in the WPIAL tournament.

“With everything we’ve been able to do, I think we’re pretty confident compared to what other people have been able to do,” Oswalt said. “We’ve been lucky enough to practice and get in the room a lot more. I think everyone thinks that they are prepared for this season.”

The Bucs will have to find a way to replace Mike Scherer (220) and Ricky Feroce (195) at the top of their lineup. The two former Bucs combined for 69 wins last season and played crucial roles.

Burrell has had to replace exceptional senior wrestlers before, though.

“We lost some bigger guys, and we are a little slim up top,” Shields said. “But I feel like we’ve got good guys, and we’ll just have to maximize our bonus points throughout and score as many points as we can.”

Although they lost a few solid seniors, the Bucs will also have a solid freshman, Cooper Hornack, stepping into the lineup. Shields is excited about what he brings to the table.

“He had a lot of success when he was younger. He’s got a good work ethic. He’s a competitor, and we can work out some of the technical abilities,” Shields said. “He’ll definitely be an impact player for us right away.”

Last season, the Bucs missed out on an appearance in the third-place match in the state team tournament after they suffered a loss to District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge.

“We trust every year that we are going to win a WPIAL championship,” Corrado said. “We’re working to achieve higher than that, though. We’ve come up short the past couple of years that I’ve been here. So, this year, we’re really going at it trying to place top four in the state.”

Knoch (4-8, 1-4)

After competing in Class AAA last season, the Knights have dropped down a classification and were placed in the same section as Burrell, Valley, Riverview and South Allegheny.

Bob Waldron is in his first year at the helm of the Knights program, and he will return four wrestlers who had a .500 record or better last season. Senior heavyweight Eli Reese leads the pack for the Knights after going 26-7 with 19 pins and placing second in the section tournament.

Senior Samuel Freyermuth also returns. He has improved every season and recorded his first winning record last year with a 17-12 mark at 182 pounds. At 170 pounds last season, Kyle Lauster earned a record of 15-15 and recorded 11 pins. He placed sixth in Knoch’s section tournament.

Riverview (0-9, 0-5)

The Raiders will be dealing with another small roster. Raiders coach Joe Murphy said they were on track to double their roster this season, but with a few wrestlers deciding not to participate because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the roster will be around five or six wrestlers.

Although they lost top performer Isaac Murphy, who went 17-11 last season, to graduation, the Raiders added another talented wrestler in sophomore Logan Bechtold. As a freshman last season, Bechtold wrestled at 138 pounds for Burrell and earned an overall record of 21-20.

With the small roster, Murphy said that they’ll try to get Bechtold as many matches as they can during the regular season in order to prepare him to wrestle in the postseason.

Valley (3-6, 2-3)

The Vikings went 3-6 overall last season with three wrestlers finishing with a record better than .500. Fortunately for Valley, two of them are back.

Junior Dion Lyons and Micah Hughes both had solid sophomore seasons for the Vikings.

Wrestling at 132 pounds, Lyons went 24-14 with 13 pins. Hughes wrestled at 106 and went 25-13 with 12 pins.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .


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