Joe Tuscano's Sports Column
Breaking down the WPIAL Team Tournament
Canon-McMillan High School is four victories away from establishing an unprecedented standard for Class AAA team wrestling in the WPIAL.
The Big Macs have won the past three WPIAL Team Tournament titles and begin a quest for a fourth tonight in Canonsburg with a first-round dual meet against Ringgold. No other Class AAA wrestling program has won more than three consecutive titles. North Allegheny, under the late Gus DeAugustino, won championships from 1986 through 1988. The Tigers’ program was so dominant in the 1980s that it also won titles in 1984 and 1990. Only the Tom Dolde Sr.-coached Connellsville team stopped North Allegheny from making that streak five straight titles with a 31-29 win in the 1989 semifinals.
Interestingly, Canon-McMillan will have to get past fourth-seeded Connellsville in the semifinals of this year’s bracket.
With the bulk of last year’s team that won the state team and individual team titles in Hershey back, Canon-McMillan seems a lock to win a fourth straight title.
The big threat should come from Franklin Regional, which has bolstered its lineup with the return of heavyweight Luke Fleck and 120-pounder Conner Medlang. Franklin Regional handed Kiski its first loss of the season in the Section 1 finals last week.
Canon-McMillan has been battling injuries with Malachi Krenzelak, a 145-pound junior, and William Pihiou, a 152-pound senior, missing time. If they are healthy and Solomon Chishko, a bronze medalist in last year’s PIAA Championships, returns from a fractured elbow suffered in the preseason Super 32 Tournament in November, the Big Macs should prevail.
Final Four prediction: Canon-McMillan, Kiski, North Allegheny, Franklin Regional.
Finals prediction: Canon-McMillan 31, Franklin Regional 21.
This title also could be influenced by injuries. Burrell has won a WPIAL-record six championships in a row and has the No. 1 seed. But South Fayette has been surging at the end of the season, winning a thrilling rematch against Chartiers-Houston to capture the Section 1 title.
Burrell has gone through most of the season without two of its top middleweights. Corey Falleroni, a 152-pound junior, missed five weeks and Phil Marra, a 145-pound senior, missed a month because of injuries, Both returned last week, but rust and conditioning could be a problem.
The Bucs have rolled through their Class AA opponents and their 11-4 record is misleading because the losses came against four of the top Class AAA teams in the WPIAL: Kiski, Franklin Regional, Belle Vernon and North Allegheny.
South Fayette, the No. 2 seed, was not given much hope on most prognosticators’ rankings at the start of the season. The Lions got a late start because the football team advanced to the WPIAL semifinals. A slow, steady climb and the rounding into shape of wrestlers who played football have the Lions confident they are peaking at the right time of the season.
The flip which decided who sends their wrestlers to the mat first will be critical in deciding the outcome of the final.
Final Four prediction: Burrell, Chartiers-Houston, Jefferson-Morgan, South Fayette.
Finals prediction: Burrell 32, South Fayette 29.
Assistant sports editor Joe Tuscano can be reached at email@example.com