Canon-McMillan and Bethlehem Catholic return to this week's PIAA team wrestling championships with the goal of defending the titles they won last year. Both teams are ranked No. 1 by PAPowerWrestling.com, but neither is a strong favorite.
Canon-McMillan claimed its first PIAA Class AAA title last year after ending Central Dauphin's four-year reign with a 28-25 upset in the semifinals. The victory also ended Central Dauphin's 95-match winning streak, a state record.
"It was a shame we were in the same half of the bracket last year," said Canon-McMillan coach Chris Mary, referring to Canon-McMillan and Central Dauphin -- clearly the top two teams in the state -- meeting in the semifinals of the PIAA's pre-determined brackets.
The 20-team bracket has changed this year. Central Dauphin, a six-time District 3 champion, now is at the top of the bracket, while Canon-McMillan, a four-time WPIAL champion, is at the bottom. That means the two cannot meet until the title match.
"We came into the season with goals of winning a fourth WPIAL title and a second PIAA title," Mary said. "We attained one goal [Saturday] and the second goal is within our reach, but it will not be easy."
Canon-McMillan (15-0) has fought injuries and illnesses all season. The Big Macs have been without WPIAL champion Solomon Chishko the entire season due to a elbow injury. Two-year starter Malachi Krenzelak also has been out the past three weeks with an injury.
"We've had some injuries and other issues to deal with all year, but the kids overcame the adversity," Mary said. "We're hoping to have a full lineup for the state tournament, but we'll just have to wait and see."
Central Dauphin (20-0) is unbeaten with only one close match all season.
Bethlehem Catholic (8-0) is a two-time defending champ in Class AA.
Seven-time WPIAL champion Burrell (15-5) will make its ninth consecutive appearance in the Class AA state team tournament. The Buccaneers have an 18-12 record in PIAA matches and have been a top-four finisher four times.
Class AA field expands
Six teams from the WPIAL and one City League squad enter the PIAA team tournament with hopes of claiming one of the two titles.
Canon-McMillan, Franklin Regional, North Allegheny and Allderdice qualified for the 20-team Class AAA bracket. Burrell, South Fayette and Chartiers-Houston qualified for the Class AA bracket, which has 20 teams for the first time.
"The PIAA added three teams to the Class AA bracket, which gave the WPIAL a third berth," Chartiers-Houston coach Bill Sutton said. "This will be our second PIAA appearance in three years, but we haven't made it to Hershey yet."
Sutton is referring to Chartiers-Houston, North Allegheny and Allderdice needing a win in tonight's preliminary round to earn a trip to Hershey.
Chartiers-Houston has the task of facing last year's PIAA runner-up Fort LeBoeuf at 7 p.m. on the road. Fort LeBoeuf earned its berth by placing second in District 10.
Allderdice is the City League's lone representative. The Dragons qualified for the Class AAA bracket for the second consecutive year by winning the City League. Allderdice faces North Allegheny at 6 p.m. at Carrick, with the winner earning a trip to Hershey.
Canon-McMillan, Franklin Regional, Burrell and South Fayette receive a bye until Thursday's first round. The remainder of the tournament will be held at Giant Center in Hershey and end Saturday.
Franklin Regional and South Fayette are making their first PIAA appearance.
Tough sledding in PIAAs
The PIAA team wrestling tournament has not been kind to WPIAL teams. Canon-McMillan last season was only the third WPIAL team to win a state title since the tournament's first year in 1999.
Connellsville claimed the PIAA Class AAA title in 2005 after placing second in 2000 and 2004. Kiski Area (2003) and Trinity (2002) also have placed second in the Class AAA tournament.
Burrell captured the PIAA Class AA title in 2008. Shady Side Academy is the only other Class AA team from the WPIAL to make an appearance in a PIAA title match. The Indians lost in the title match in 2001 and 2009.