The South Fayette wrestling program took a huge step last week in the WPIAL Class AA team tournament, but fell short of the ultimate prize.
The Lions, five years after the program was brought back from the dead, advanced to the WPIAL title match.
"It's a big step for our program," said Rick Chaussard, now in his second stint as South Fayette's head coach. "This is only the fifth year since the program was brought back. To get to the WPIAL finals in such a short time is a tribute to the kids."
South Fayette disbanded its program after the 1998-99 season.
"I coached at South Fayette from 1989-95," said Chaussard, who went on to coach the next 16 years at Fort Cherry. "Four years after I stepped down, the program was dropped. The district had a 'co-op' with Chartiers Valley for nine years until the program was brought back five years ago."
South Fayette reinstated its wrestling program five years ago and Michael Ladick coach the team for three years. Chaussard took over last season.
"You play sports to win championships," Chaussard said. "That's why we're here."
South Fayette came close to winning a championship in last week's WPIAL team tournament. The Lions posted three victories in the 15-team bracket, but fell short of claiming the school's first WPIAL title after a 35-30 loss to Burrell in the title match at Chartiers Valley. For Burrell it was an unprecedented seventh consecutive team championship.
Burrell's previous experience in matches of this importance was significant.
"They've been here for how many years in a row," said Chaussard, referring to Burrell's 11th consecutive appearances in the title match. "Their kids are born to be in this position. We're trying to get there, and heading in the right direction."
Three bouts sealed South Fayette's fate in the championship match.
The first was at 126 pounds, which was drawn as the first bout. South Fayette freshman Michael Carr dominated the first half of the bout against Burrell freshman Damon Greenwald, building a 12-4 lead. Greenwald rebounded late in the second period with a takedown and two three-point near falls to tie the bout at 12-12. Carr eventually lost a heartbreaker, 16-15.
"We gave up eight points in 30 seconds," Chaussard said. "That loss was the difference in the match. Take three points away from them and add it to our score and we come out on top. It was very disappointing to see the match start that way."
South Fayette also came up short at 152 and at 106.
The Lions J.J. Walker, a WPIAL champion, moved down to 152 but dropped a 5-3 decision to Burrell's Phillip Marra.
South Fayette's fate was sealed with Jasper Wolfe's 3-2 loss to Burrell's Jason Roberts at 106.
"We got the match-ups we expected," said Chaussard, when asked if losing the coin flip hurt South Fayette. "The coin flip didn't matter. We just didn't deliver. They did and we didn't. It's as simple as that."
Chaussard took his team to the locker room immediately after the match ended, before the WPIAL could award the championship trophies.
"I wanted to remind the kids that even though we didn't reach our goal, we still have a chance to bring something home from Hershey," said Chaussard, referring to this week's PIAA team tournament, which began on Monday.
South Fayette will make its PIAA debut this morning against District 6 champion West Branch.
"Qualifying for the state team tournament is another big step for our program," Chaussard said. "And the experience we gain at Hershey this week will help our wrestlers who qualify for the PIAA individual tournament next month."