South Xtra: Plenty of changes greet fans to 2012-13 high school season
Canon-McMillan senior Connor Schram is a defending WPIAL champion and a PIAA runner-up last season at 120 pounds.
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Two of the most successful wrestling programs in WPIAL history made coaching changes during the offseason.
One chose a young coach who is making his head coaching debut, while the other picked one of the most successful coaches in WPIAL history.
Mark Caffrey has come out of retirement for an encore at McGuffey, while Trinity has turned the reins over to alumnus Mark Powell.
"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 posted a 307-62 record in 21 seasons at McGuffey. He took a one-year leave of absence during the 2000-01 school year due to health concerns, and retired after the 2004-05 season. He retired from teaching in June.
McGuffey has had a 45-65 record since Caffrey left.
"The program became too individually oriented since I left," said Caffrey, who ranks 13th on the WPIAL's all-time list for coaching victories, and is one of only 15 with 300 or more wins. "I've always considered wrestling a team sport. When you develop a good team, good individual performances will follow."
Powell, a 2004 Trinity graduate, takes over for Mike Marino, who retired after 35 years of service with the Hillers junior high and varsity programs. Powell was a three-time PIAA qualifier, two-time WPIAL runner-up and one-time Powerade Tournament champion while wrestling at Trinity. He ranks second on Trinity's all-time victory list.
"It's my dream job, to come back and teach and coach at my alma mater," said Powell, who compiled a 132-30 record as a four-year starter for the Hillers.
Powell, who was hired as a 10th-grade science teacher at the high school, has the task of rebuilding a program that has fallen on hard times over the past several years.
"Trinity's wrestling program has always had high standards," Powell said. "Year in and year out, they reached those standards. But the numbers have dropped off since I wrestled here. We used to have 30 kids on the team. Wrestling is a numbers game. You've got to get the kids out and keep them out."
Both Trinity and McGuffey are in possibly the strongest sub-section in the WPIAL. The two join three-time WPIAL Class AAA champion Canon-McMillan, Chartiers Valley, Waynesburg Central and Moon Area in Section 4A.
"Canon-Mac is on a different level than the rest of the WPIAL," Caffrey said. "They have great individuals, a balanced team, good depth, and a good coaching staff. I don't see anybody challenging them around here."
McGuffey's top returnees are seniors Brent Blaharczyk (27-10 at 160), Erik Capra (30-7 at 195) and Christian Whipkey (17-7 at 132). Capra placed sixth in the WPIAL last season, while Whipkey placed seventh.
Trinity's top returnees are Don McWreath (26-12 at 195), Robert West (23-6 at 170), Jeff Miller (23-15) and Evan Seaman (22-10 at 220).
Trinity and McGuffey are just two of many South Xtra area teams that were affected by the WPIAL's realignment.
Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon, Peters Township and Upper St. Clair have moved from Section 4 to Section 2. The foursome will compete in Section 2B along with Baldwin and West Mifflin.
"We will be doing a lot less traveling this year," Mt. Lebanon coach Bill Lewis said. "We're a little closer to home in this section."
Elizabeth Forward, Ringgold, and Thomas Jefferson have moved from Sub-Section 2B to 2A, thus joining Albert Gallatin, Belle Vernon Area and Connellsville. Those changes were made to replace Hempfield Area and McKeesport, who moved to Section 1, and Uniontown, which dropped its program due to lack of numbers.
"Section 2 is very similar in strength to last year's Section 4," Peters Township coach Jason Carpetta said. "We no longer have Canon-McMillan in our section, but we now have Connellsville. So we take away one powerhouse and replace them with another. But I would rather be in our new section."
South Fayette is a team to watch in Class AA.
The Lions have everybody returning from last year's squad, which posted a 13-8 record and advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
"It's great to have everybody back," coach Rick Chaussard said. "We just need to get everybody in the right weight class."
Chaussard has six individuals returning who placed among the top eight in their weight classes in the WPIAL, including a trio of PIAA qualifiers, seniors Michael Fetchet (42-11 at 160) and Seth Carr (34-9 at 113), and sophomore Jared Walker (36-15 at 152). Fetchet placed second in the WPIAL and fifth in the PIAA. Walker won a WPIAL title.
"We should have 25 to 28 kids on the varsity once I decide which freshmen will move down to the junior high," Chaussard said. "We should have a full lineup, which is half the battle in Class AA."
Chaussard realizes that unseating six-time WPIAL champion Burrell will not be easy.
"Burrell has to be considered the favorite until somebody beats them," Chaussard said. "We would like to be that team, but it's a little early to be thinking about the postseason."
First Published December 6, 2012 12:00 am