The Canon-McMillan wrestling team had eight wrestlers sit out a tournament last weekend because of injuries and the flu.
It was a time to rest before a run at history.
The WPIAL team wrestling playoffs are just around the corner and on the menu of Class AAA favorites are Big Macs -- again.
The Canon-McMillan Big Macs have won three consecutive WPIAL AAA championships, and are on the cusp of making history. Since the WPIAL started team playoffs in 1979, no team has ever won four Class AAA championships in a row. The only other team to win three was North Allegheny from 1986-88.
"I don't know if a lot of people understand how difficult this is to do," said Guy Montecalvo, Canon-McMillan's athletic director.
Canon-McMillan has long been a power in WPIAL wrestling. But the Big Macs' success in recent years has taken the program to an even higher level and added more to the team's mystique.
On the WPIAL landscape, Canon-McMillan might be considered a little unusual in that Western Pennsylvania is acclaimed for high school football. But in Canonsburg, where Canon-McMillan is located, many youngsters want to grow up to be Big Macs in singlets because those are the kids who often get the super size trophy.
"I think it's a big deal to be a Canon-Mac wrestler. I know it was for me," said Connor Schram, a senior who will wrestle next year at Stanford University. "I think there are a lot of little kids who kind of look up to us and want to be a part of Canon-Mac wrestling someday."
Montecalvo is a retired football coach who won more than 200 games at Washington High School and also Canon-McMillan. He is one of the few football coaches who enjoyed some success at Canon-McMillan.
But even Montecalvo knows where wrestling stands in the Canonsburg community.
"We've got kids who, from the time they are 5 and 6 years old, aspire to represent us on the mat," Montecalvo said.
At some high schools in the WPIAL, a wrestling team has trouble filling out all the weight classes. But wrestling continues to thrive at Canon-McMillan. The Big Macs usually carry about 25 wrestlers on the varsity. The youth programs are also strong and have good participation and the Big Macs have a big following of fans.
"We've got some fans who travel no matter where we go," Montecalvo said. "Depending on whom we wrestle, we might only have a couple hundred fans in the gym. But if we're wrestling a good opponent, someone like Trinity, we will have 1,000 people in the gym."
The man guiding the Big Macs to great things these days is 46-year-old Chris Mary, a former WPIAL champion wrestler at Chartiers-Houston. Mary doesn't get a whole lot of sleep this time of year, working night shift for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.
Mary is now in his 13th season as the Big Macs' coach and those who know him say he is an excellent motivator -- and he has certainly figured out how to win with regularity. He recorded the 200th victory of his coaching career last week.
"I have always been in favor of the team concept over the individual in wrestling," Mary said. "I have always believed your time as an individual will be at the end of the year. Being part of the team concept and the team tournament is something I've always been a fan of."
But Mary went through some painful times before getting Canon-McMillan to the top of the WPIAL summit. His 2006 team lost in the WPIAL final to Penn-Trafford, and the Big Macs had some other tough postseason losses.
"To win three championships in a row and have a chance at a fourth, the guy at the top of our program can tell you how difficult it is," Montecalvo said. "I remember about five years ago how down and depressed he was after a heartbreaking playoff loss to Connellsville.
"After the match, he drove in the car with me back to school and I shared some stories with him about being close to a championship, and how when I was at Washington we lost in the WPIAL [football] championship twice by one point.
"I tried to encourage him to persevere because he was really contemplating his future and what to do. But he turned the corner and now he has a chance to win four championships in a row."
This year's Canon-McMillan team features three Division I college recruits. Besides the Stanford-bound Schram, Cody Wiercioch is a Pitt recruit and considered by many as the top wrestler in the WPIAL. He wrestled at Charleroi as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Canon-McMillan.
Wiercioch and Schram are both seniors, but junior Solomon Chishko already has made a verbal commitment to Virginia Tech. Chishko hasn't wrestled yet this season because of an injury, but is expected back soon.
Overall, Canon-McMillan has seven wrestlers who are ranked in the top five in WPIAL Class AAA in their respective weight classes. Schram (126 pounds), Wiercioch (170) and Alex Campbell (220) are all ranked No. 1.
"We have a pretty solid blueprint here, but I'm surrounded by a lot of great assistant coaches and we really have the support of the school administration and the community," Mary said.
But about that possibility of a fourth title and a spot in WPIAL history?
"We don't talk too much about it," Schram said. "I think right now we really don't realize how big of an accomplishment it would be. Maybe later on in life we will."
Meanwhile, in AA, Burrell goes for seven
The Canon-McMillan wrestling team has its sights set on winning its fourth consecutive WPIAL wrestling championship.
The Canon-McMillan wrestling team has won three WPIAL Class AAA titles in a row and could become the first in WPIAL history to win four consecutive championships in the largest classification.
But on the Class AA level, it is been there, done that for Burrell.
Burrell has a sixth sense for team championships and is trying to climb the stairway to seven. The Bucs have won six WPIAL Class AA championships in a row. That is the longest championship streak since the WPIAL started team playoffs in 1979.
Burrell, under second-year coach Bud Sines, is the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked Class AA team and the Bucs have six wrestlers ranked among the top four in Class AA in their respective weight classes. Dakota DesLauriers is No. 1 at 182 pounds and Alan Beattie No. 1 at 285. -- By Mike White
Mike White: email@example.com First Published January 18, 2013 5:00 AM