In two previous seasons, the Burgettstown Area High School boys golf team watched golfers from Neshannock hoist the handsome trophy signifying WPIAL small-schools supremacy.
That changed last week as the Blue Devils, runners-up in both 2011 and '10, strode proudly to the podium to pick up the trophy that had eluded them.
This trophy presentation meant more to this group of Blue Devils. Finishing first in the WPIAL Class AA team tournament did not signal the end of the road for golfers who formerly competed in what was known as Division II.
In previous years, a Division II team championship was the highest honor a WPIAL team could achieve in competing against smaller schools.
This year brought a change in terminology and in possibilities. Division II morphed into Class AA, and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association decreed that Class AA teams would be permitted to compete for a state championship.
"It's very satisfying," said Burgettstown coach Jon Vallina, who has served in various capacities on WPIAL and PIAA committees and has -- along with several other WPIAL officials -- lobbied for the change.
The Blue Devils will compete in the Class AA boys team championship with other district champions next Wednesday at Heritage Hills Golf Course near York.
"We've been trying to get two classifications [for the state tournament], and we finally got it," he said. "We never dreamed that our team would be the one going."
Last week, Burgettstown and five other schools vied for the right to compete for a state championship at the first WPIAL Class AA boys team championship on Cedarbrook Golf Club's Gold Course in Rostraver.
In team golf, depth is a big factor in determining a championship, and that was true at Cedarbrook as the Blue Devils tallied 411 strokes, while Sewickely Academy was a close second with 415. Neshannock (430), Freeport (447), Shenango (447) and Winchester Thurston (458) rounded out the field.
Burgettstown had played at Cedarbrook on several occasions, but Vallina said several of his players did not compete to their usually high standards. The exception: Owen Miller, a talented junior who led the Class AA boys field with a 2-over-par round of 74.
"I'm very happy with our team this year," Miller said. "We worked hard all summer practicing, and we're [playing golf] every chance we get. This was our goal at the beginning of the season -- that if we practiced hard enough and played well, we had a feeling we could make it to the WPIAL [team tournament]. And then we thought if we played our normal game, we could make it to the state tournament."
Freshman Cody Dobbin (87) and senior Luc Bongiorni (86) gave Burgettstown some hope. And the Blue Devils were able to pack their bags for the state tournament when senior Drake Hoborek and sophomore Hunter Lecker fired matching scores of 82.
Lecker, who was playing out of the No. 6 position, shot a score that did not surprise Miller. In boys golf, a team fields six competitors and the top five scores are counted.
"Eighty-two for Hunter is a great score," Miller said. "He's pretty consistent, and I expect him to shoot around 80 to 82. I thought that between [Sewickley Academy's] sixth man and our sixth man, Hunter is more consistent. I didn't think their sixth man would be able to shoot like Hunter did."
Miller's assessment was correct as Sewickley's sixth golfer shot an 88, and the Panthers' No. 5 golfer carded an 89.
A huge benefit to winning the WPIAL championship is that the Blue Devils -- along with Class AAA boys champion Central Catholic, Class AAA girls champion Penn-Trafford and Class AA girls champion Central Valley -- advance directly to the state team championship along with the champions from District 1 and District 3.
Champions from smaller districts across the state competed at Western and Eastern regional tournaments earlier this week. The Western Regional took place on Monday at Tom's Run Golf Course near Blairsville. But Vallina said the qualifying process in the WPIAL and in the two Eastern districts he referenced is a stringent one.
"Those districts have the toughest competition to get through their districts," he said. "We're very happy to be going directly to the state tournament."