The wrestling squads at Canon-McMillan and Burrell have a lot in common as they enter the 2012-13 season, which begins tonight.
The Big Macs and Buccaneers are defending WPIAL team tournament champions and have a title streak to preserve.
Both will be short-handed for the first month of the season because of injury.
And most important, both are favored to repeat as WPIAL champions.
Canon-McMillan has won three consecutive WPIAL Class AAA team tournament titles. The Big Macs also won titles at the PIAA team and individual tournaments last season. Six starters from that squad graduated, including a trio of PIAA place-winners who combined for 415 career wins.
"We took a pretty big hit with graduation losses," Big Macs coach Chris Mary said. "We are fortunate to have a good group of kids coming back, but we're not as solid as we were last year. We had a lineup with no holes from top to bottom last year. This year, we've got some inexperienced kids who need to mature."
Canon-McMillan has nine wrestlers returning who recorded 20 or more wins last season, including five PIAA place-winners.
"We have big goals that remain the same," Mary said. "Our goal every year is to win a WPIAL team title. To reach that goal, we must peak at the right time."
Seniors Cody Wiercioch and Connor Schram are Canon-McMillan's top returnees. Both are two-time WPIAL champions and three-time PIAA finalists. Wiercioch (46-0 at 170 pounds last season), a Pitt recruit, has won two WPIAL titles and two PIAA crowns. Schram (25-1 at 120 pounds), a Stanford recruit, has won two WPIAL titles and one PIAA crown.
Canon-McMillan's other three PIAA place-winners are juniors Solomon Chishko (44-2 at 138 pounds) and Dalton Macri (42-5 at 113 pounds) and senior Alex Campbell (43-5 at 220 pounds). Chishko, a two-time WPIAL champion and two-time PIAA bronze medalist, broke his elbow Oct. 21 in the finals of the Super 32 tournament.
"The doctors said he would need six to eight weeks to recover from the surgery," Mary said. "I'm not sure when he will be back in the lineup, but it will not come until after the new year."
Burrell has won six consecutive WPIAL Class AA team tournament titles. The Buccaneers have made 10 consecutive appearances in the WPIAL title match and claimed seven titles.
Burrell lost four starters to graduation, including PIAA qualifier Kevin Best, but picked up a transfer to fill one of the holes.
Allan Beattie has returned to Burrell after posting a 26-13 record as a 285-pound freshman at Kiski School. Beattie's brother Derrick (34-15 at 170 pounds) was a WPIAL bronze medalist for the Buccaneers last season as a sophomore.
"Derrick suffered a shoulder injury during the football season," said Burrell coach Bud Sines, who pointed out that Derrick had 22 pins last season. "He will not be available until after Jan. 1."
Burrell's lineup features three PIAA qualifiers: Dakota DesLauriers (45-1 at 182 pounds), Steven Edwards (38-15 at 132 pounds), and Phil Marra (38-14 at 138 pounds). DesLauriers, a Mercyhurst recruit, is a two-time WPIAL champion and three-time PIAA place-winner who placed second in the PIAA last season.
"On paper, we have the talent required to win another WPIAL title," Sines said. "But we still have some kids who are not down to the weight we want them to be at. It may take some time to get our lineup set."
Also back for the Buccaneers is junior John Andrejcik, who had 21 wins as a freshman but missed last season with a shoulder injury.
Two long-time coaches have retired, and another returns for a third stint at the same school.
Marc Billett retired after 40 years at Latrobe, and Craig Miller stepped down after 24 years at Indiana.
Billett coached Latrobe's junior high team for 19 years, then posted a 218-104-4 record in 21 seasons as the Wildcats varsity coach. Billett was replaced by longtime assistant Tad Harbert, the son of Tom Harbert, who coached the varsity program while Billett coached the junior high.
Miller posted a 190-218-1 record at Indiana. He has been replaced by Tony Donatelli.
The opposite is true for Mark Caffrey, who came out of retirement to coach at McGuffey again. Caffrey posted 307-62 record in 21 seasons at McGuffey.
"McGuffey had one of the most successful programs in the WPIAL," said Caffrey, who begins his third stint at McGuffey after an eight-year layoff. "The program has gone through some tough times. My goal is to build the program back up."
Caffrey took a one-year leave of absence during the 2000-01 school year due to health concerns, then returned for four years, with his final season coming in 2004-05.
Other coaching changes include Rich Ginther (Penn-Trafford), Mitch Barcaskey (Moon), Mark Powell (Trinity), Chad Alexis (Charleroi), Ryan Shaw (Southmoreland) and Dan Sefick (North Catholic).
Wiercioch, Schram, and DesLauriers are three of six WPIAL seniors who have made three PIAA appearances. The others are Kiski Area's Matt McCutcheon, Connellsville's Ethan Kenney and Beth-Center's Zach Swarrow.
McCutcheon (41-1 at 182 pounds), a Penn State recruit, won WPIAL and PIAA titles last year.
Kenney (42-7 at 132 pounds) is a two-time PIAA place-winner and one-time WPIAL champ. Swarrow (32-12 at 113 pounds) is a two-time PIAA place-winner.
Chishko and Kittanning's Jason Nolf are two-time PIAA place-winners.
Nolf (43-1 at 113 pounds) placed third in the PIAA Class AA tournament last season after winning a state title as a freshman.
First Published December 6, 2012 5:00 AM