‘Mr. Murphy’ teaches Burrell wrestlers about facing adversity

Tuesday, February 5, 2019 | 6:50 PM

Burrell calls its wrestling nemesis “Mister,” but it’s not a person.

Meet “Mr. Murphy,” a variation of the more well-known Murphy’s Law — the adage that states that anything can go wrong, will go wrong.

“It’s like a bad energy that comes when you least expect it,” senior Austin Mele said. “When everything seems to be going good, there’s something that always sneaks in and takes the goodness out of whatever’s happening at that time. … After everything’s going good, something bad can come in just like that and take it.”

Given that Burrell just won its 13th consecutive WPIAL Class AA championship, it might seem unusual that the Bucs focus on a negative. But they believe they draw their power from the idea, not in spite of it.

Assistant coach Isaac Greeley picked up on the term from legendary wrestling coach Pat Pecora at Pitt-Johnstown, where Greeley was a two-time All-American. During Greeley’s 1998-99 senior season, the Mountain Cats were missing several wrestlers because of injuries when Pecora introduced the team to “Mr. Murphy.” Pitt-Johnstown overcame its injuries to win its second national championship in three seasons.

When Greeley became a Burrell assistant in 2004-05, he brought Mr. Murphy with him.

“You have two ways of responding to adversity: You can either run away from it, or you can stand up to it,” Greeley said. “If something bad happens in a wrestling match that we’re not expecting — if someone gets pinned, or someone gets on their back or loses the match, we always tell the team, ‘Mr. Murphy.’ That’s our little cue that someone needs to step up.

“It’s Murphy Law — we have to slap Mr. Murphy in the face. If Mr. Murphy shows up, our reaction is always to immediately slap Mr. Murphy in the face. It’s saved us many, many times.”

Burrell in general goes into each match expecting the worst, so that if that situation arises, the Bucs can overcome it.

The results seem to favor that approach.

“The worst case scenario usually plays out the way it is, so we always just remind these guys during these types of dual meets that (they should) just focus on your job and doing your job,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “Regardless of what happens before you or after you, just focus on your job and don’t let the momentum of the match swing things one way or another. Because at the end of the day, what happened before you really shouldn’t have an impact on your job at that time, what you need to do, what we expect from you.”

Seemingly every Burrell wrestler has his own Mr. Murphy story. Mele recalled a match from last season against Riverview when he unexpectedly got pinned. During Shields’ senior season at Burrell, 2004-05, the Bucs lost a handful of matches they thought they would win during a PIAA tournament dual. They came back and took third place in the state.

Mr. Murphy loomed large over senior Bryan Gaul this season. The four-year starter suffered a preseason injury that kept him out until late December. He returned for the Powerade Christmas Tournament but came down with another injury that kept him out until Saturday’s WPIAL semifinal and championship matches.

Gaul didn’t fall to Mr. Murphy, getting a pair of pins to help power Burrell’s WPIAL title.

“It felt great to get back on the mat,” Gaul said. “I was a little nervous at first because I hadn’t wrestled in a while, but as soon as I got back out there, I knew what I had to do and I was able to relax.”

As Burrell prepares to face District 3 runner-up Newport in the first round of the PIAA tournament Thursday in Hershey, the Bucs know things likely won’t go entirely as they plan. The strength of the state tournament almost makes that a certainty.

That’s where Mr. Murphy comes into play.

“It’s about how you fight when you’re down, when you’re missing that teammate or how you bounce back from an injury,” Gaul said. “It’s about coming back strong and working with what you have.”

Burrell only can hope its strong response to a Mr. Murphy moment earlier this season can carry over to the state tournament, as well.

The Bucs responded powerfully to a nonsection loss to Kiski Area last month, making up for what they believed was an uninspired effort in that match with a strong performance at the Thomas Chevrolet tournament in Bedford, then their dominant run to the WPIAL title.

“Those are the (types of) teams that are going to be up in Hershey that we’re wrestling,” Mele said. “I think it’s just we recognize we’ve got to really wrestle better, prepare better for a tournament. … We take responsibility for that as wrestlers, not for coaches, because they always prepare us. After that (Kiski Area) dual, we definitely realized we had to step up in our practices and started doing all the little things right.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.


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