The names of the high schools are familiar but the circumstances surrounding this year’s PIAA Class AAA Team Tournament are different from last season.
Defending champion Canon-McMillan enters with a 15-0 record, but the Big Macs are not charging so much as limping into Thursday’s first-round dual meet against Spring Grove (8 p.m.) at the Giant Center in Hershey. Last year, the Big Macs ended Central Dauphin’s state-record 95-match win streak with a thrilling 28-25 victory in the semifinals.
Central Dauphin, the six-time District 3 champion, has won 21 straight dual meets this season, but has holes in its lineup after state champion Garrett Peppelman and silver medalist Shyheim Brown graduated. Erie McDowell, last year’s finalist, returns as District 10 champions but without some key parts, including Steve Spearman, the 138-pound state champion last year who also was lost to graduation.
Easton won another District 11 title, but did so without the graduated Mitchell Minotti, who placed third and first in the last two state individual titles.
“It’s going to be really tough,” said Connor Schram, Canon-McMillan’s 126-pounder who has three individual state medals – one of them gold – in as many seasons. “If (our injured wrestlers) come back, we have a great shot. If not, it’s going to be a lot tougher.”
Canon-McMillan, the No. 1 team in the O-R Wrestling Rankings and ranked ninth in the country by Intermat, could be without Solomon Chishko, who lost to Spearman in last year’s PIAA individual semifinals and finished third at 138 pounds. Chishko has not wrestled since fracturing his elbow in the Super 32 tournament held two weeks before the first varsity practice date. Malachi Krenzelak, a 145-pound junior, has missed the past three weeks with an injury, and William Pihiou, a 152-pound senior, is just getting back into mat shape after missing two weeks with a shoulder problem.
“We go one day at a time,” said head coach Chris Mary, who has led Canon-Mc-Millan to a WPIAL-record four straight Class AAA team titles. “There will be some great teams there with Easton, Central Dauphin, McDowell, Parkland. We’ll see McDowell early and Easton is on our side of the bracket. It’s going to be a great tournament.”
The Big Macs lost three key cogs from last year’s team to graduation: Colt Shorts, Dario Dobbin and Cody Klempay. But in Schram, Dalton Macri (120), Brendon Price (106), Alex Campbell (220), Angelo Broglia (Hvy) and defending state champion Cody Wiercioch (170), the Big Macs have enough firepower to score bonus points, and those often are the difference in a dual meet.
In Class AA, South Fayette is making its first trip to Hershey for the team tournament. While there was disappointmentintheLions’lockerroom after losing to Burrell in the Class AA team tournament finals, SouthFayettecaughtone break in the bracket: BethlehemCatholic, theoverwhelming favorite to win the team title, isontheotherside.
Burrell, which has won seven District 7 team titles in a row and has been in the WPIAL finals a record 11 consecutive times, draws Bethlehem Catholic in the semifinals.
South Fayette will wrestle West Branch, the District 6 champion, in the first round at 4 p.m. If successful, the Lions would probably run into Reynolds, the District 10 champion.