Looking back at Burrell’s 12 straight WPIAL wrestling championships
Friday, February 1, 2019 | 7:07 PM
It’s hard to imagine now, but Burrell left the WPIAL Class AA championship match disappointed in back-to-back years, falling to Mt. Pleasant in both 2005 and ‘06.
The Bucs had plenty of success to look back on, including WPIAL championships in 1997 and 2004 and runner-up finishes in 2003, ’05 and ’06. But nobody could predict what would happen next: 12 consecutive seasons of championships, triple the amount of the next-longest streak in WPIAL history.
Four different coaches have led Burrell to championships: Chris Como (2007-09), Ryan Yates (2010-11), Bud Sines (2012-13) and Josh Shields (2014-present). Dozens of wrestlers have gone through the Burrell program knowing nothing but success in the WPIAL team tournament. And the Bucs will have a chance to extend it even further Saturday: With a victory over Beth-Center in the semifinals at noon at Chartiers-Houston, the Bucs would advance to the championship match at 2 p.m., where they would face Quaker Valley or Freedom.
“Each team really has its own DNA, so they’ve all been special in their own way,” Shields said. “Some have been in dominating fashion, some have come down to one or two matches.”
With the WPIAL championship potentially on the line again Saturday, here’s a look back at the Bucs’ 12-year streak.
2007: Burrell 40, Derry 18
Burrell suffered narrow defeats to Mt. Pleasant in 2005 and ‘06, but the Bucs left no doubt this time around. Seniors Damian Majocha, Devon Maloney and junior Shane Welsh had pins for the Bucs, who won eight of 14 bouts in claiming their third WPIAL title.
Isaac Greeley, a Burrell assistant then and now, traced the start of the program’s success to the 2005 PIAA tournament, when the Bucs upended Mt. Pleasant in the third-place match.
“We saw the power of that,” he said. “We saw how raising up the intensity level in those kind of matches makes a difference.”
2008: Burrell 36, Shady Side Academy 26
The most decorated team in school history won both the WPIAL and PIAA team titles.
Freshman Travis McKillop had a surprising win over Shady Side’s Frank Mertellotti in the second match of the night, and Jordan Shields and Welsh added pins for the Bucs, part of a run of six victories in seven bouts.
“That Shady Side match, they were so, so good,” said Brian Beattie, a freshman at the time. “They were better than us. They had like eight or nine kids that were in the top five in the nation, and we beat them three times in one year. I remember seeing the stands completely packed. We were the underdogs every single time we wrestled them, and it came down to the coin flip every time. We won three out of three.”
2009: Burrell 31, Shady Side Academy 28
The rematch between the Bucs and the Indians came down to the final bout, as both teams faced deficits throughout the match but rallied. With the teams deadlocked at 28, Jeremy Landowski scored a 6-2 decision in the 119-pound bout to give the Bucs their third straight title.
Burrell had lost several starters from its 2008 state title team, but the Bucs knocked off Shady Side Academy in both the section and WPIAL championship matches. Shady Side ended up finishing second at the PIAA tournament.
“What we’ve seen over the years is there’s been a rise in teams with strong lineups that come together, like Mt. Pleasant and then Shady Side the first couple years of our streak,” Como said. “Really, I think that’s helped us over the years because it gave us the ability to be battle-tested going into the state team duals, and the results kind of speak for themselves.”
2010: Burrell 41, Shady Side Academy 30
Burrell became the first WPIAL wrestling team to win four straight championships, and the streak just keeps going. The Bucs once again took down their section rival Shady Side Academy in a match that was postponed twice by weather and was held on a Tuesday afternoon.
Dan Shepherd, Dave Makara, Chuck Makara, Hayden Greenwald and Beattie got pins, and McKillop added a technical fall for Burrell, which once again knocked off its section rival.
“It’s funny nowadays looking back for everything just to play in your favor,” McKillop said. “But we wrestled in their gym two of the three times in front of their home crowd. We were always winning the coin flip, or someone who was supposed to get pinned would end up pinning one of their stars.”
2011: Burrell 54, Chartiers-Houston 20
One of the most talented teams in Burrell history, the Bucs’ roster featured three future PIAA champions in McKillop, who won in 2011, sophomore Dakota DesLauriers (2013) and freshman Steve Edwards (2014), plus state medalists in Corey Falleroni, Jeremy Landowski, Makara and Phil Marra.
The Bucs rolled to the title with seven pins, winning 10 of the 14 bouts. They ended up earning the most points at the individual PIAA tournament later that season.
“We just had a good group of kids, and I think that plays a huge role in it,” McKillop said. “Even the kids that aren’t going to wrestle in college and do amazing things still pull through and work hard and play their role.”
2012: Burrell 34, Jefferson-Morgan 31
Burrell, the underdog? It’s true, as the second-seeded Bucs rallied from a 25-0 deficit to stun No. 1 Jefferson-Morgan.
Four straight wins helped Burrell cut into its deficit, but the Bucs still trailed 31-20 with three bouts remaining. Then DesLauriers got a technical fall at 182, Jefferson-Morgan forfeited at 195 and junior Cory Klems became the hero for Burrell with a 3-1 decision at 220 pounds, the final bout.
“In my early years we had the powerhouse teams that went on to do things at the state level, and we were pretty much expected to win,” DesLauriers said. “That was a pretty different feeling winning a WPIAL title, as opposed to my later years, when we had some holes in the lineup and had to rely on some unlikely characters to get the job done. I think that says a lot about the foundation of Burrell wrestling and the family.”
2013: Burrell 35, South Fayette 30
A pair of freshmen made the difference in a nip-and-tuck battle with South Fayette.
Damon Greenwald rallied from an eight-point deficit in the first bout of the match to post a 16-15 win, and 106-pounder Jason Roberts earned a 3-2 victory in the final contested match to clinch the victory. At the time, Roberts was in just his second competitive year of wrestling.
“Whenever it came down to my match, and it was up to me to win it for the team, I found a part of myself that didn’t want to win for myself but wanted to win for everyone on my team,” Roberts said. “I guess it’s the camaraderie and the motivation I got from them. They were pretty much my brothers at the time.”
2014: Burrell 34, South Fayette 28
Shields, a former Burrell wrestler, became the fourth Bucs coach to win a WPIAL title during the streak. Once again Roberts provided some heroics with a win in the final bout; so, too, did freshman Dillan Jeffrey.
But the Bucs also had a loaded senior class, including J.R. Andrejcik, Edwards and Falleroni.
“I talk to my friends all the time: I’d kill to have one more year of high school,” Edwards said. “Just to experience the wrestling aspect again, to have one more season with all those guys. That was one of the best times of my life. I think that was a big factor: We were all having a lot of fun.”
2015: Burrell 38, McGuffey 25
After losing six seniors from the previous year, Burrell came into the season under the radar. And then the Bucs needed to climb out of a 20-4 hole in their semifinal match against Jefferson-Morgan, rallying for a 38-30 win, and a 10-0 deficit in the finals. Pins by Roberts, Bubby Scherer and Al Beattie did the trick.
“Being able to watch it as a kid and dream, you didn’t really understand what they were doing,” said Beattie, who would win an individual state title that year. “You get to high school, and you understand what that is, you understand everything, and you want to be a part of it. It’s just extremely special.”
2016: Burrell 48, Freedom 17
The 10 th consecutive WPIAL championship put Burrell in rarefied air, as only the eighth team — and the first in wrestling — to put together a double-digit title streak.
South Fayette pushed Burrell in the semifinals, but the Bucs dominated the championship match, winning the first six bouts and getting five pins altogether.
“My goal was always to win four WPIAL titles as a team, and it was kind of cool to join my brothers in that group because they both did it, too,” said Greenwald, who became a PIAA individual champion later that season. “I just remember how much our team came together. Everybody stepped up, from the freshmen to the seniors, and they just did their part. That was the most memorable part.”
2017: Burrell 44, Freedom 27
Another fast start led to another comfortable win for the Bucs against Freedom: They won four of the first five matches, all by pin. Trent Valovchik, Trent Bechtold, Jeffrey and Ethan Awes did the honors, and Mason Slahtovsky added a fifth pin late as the Bucs rolled.
“My favorite part whenever I was younger was always going to see Burrell/Kiski matches and the team finals,” said Valovchik, then the Bucs’ freshman 106-pounder and now their junior 126-pounder. “Being a part of that now is a blessing.”
2018: Burrell 50, Derry 23
Burrell’s latest WPIAL championship came in the same way as the first in the 12-season run, with a dominant win over Derry. The Bucs outlasted McGuffey in the semifinals, then picked up five pins en route to the title.
“Being part of that dynasty, I think it’s really made me who I am,” said Corey Christie, a senior on that team and now a freshman wrestler at Coker College (N.C.). “Every tournament I wrestle in college, everybody looks at me like a senior, almost. I kind of wear it on my chest because that’s what we’re known for. Everything at Burrell, it’s highly respected around the country.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.