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2/3/98

A lot on the line for Canon-Mac, Trinity
by Joe Tuscano

Welcome to the wacky world of Section 5-AAA wrestling, where nothing is assured and the unexpected is a regular feature.

At least that's the feeling one has to have after a tumultuous week in which second-ranked McGuffey battled for its life before defeating Canon-McMillan, 28-26, and Trinity upended Waynesburg, 26-25, in the Raiders' gymnasium.

The Highlanders, to be fair, wrestled without two starters. But the closeness of the match shows the distance between the first and fourth team in the section is just not that great.

Actually, there may not be a No. 4 team if the Big Macs can defeat Trinity in Wednesday's annual battle of longtime rivals. That would create a three-way tie for second place and all four teams would qualify for the WPIAL Team Tournament.

It didn't seem that was possible through the first seven weeks of the season, when McGuffey was easily cutting through the schedule and Canon-McMillan was struggling just to fill the weight classes. After the Big Macs lost to Waynesburg, many felt the pecking order for the section was McGuffey No. 1 and Trinity and Waynesburg at either 2 or 3, followed by C-M.

But Canon-McMillan actually caught a break when Trinity defeated Waynesburg. If the Hillers had lost, Waynesburg would have only needed wins over Chartiers Valley and Upper St. Clair to sew up second place and, most likely, one of the top seeds in the team tournament. The Trinity-Canon-McMillan winner would have taken third place and the loser would have been eliminated.

A loss Wednesday still eliminates Canon-McMillan, but a victory over Trinity would not only assure a team tournament berth, it would also give C-M an argument for one of the tournament seeds. That's pretty heady stuff for a team that has hovered closer to the 10th spot than the first in the Observer-Reporter Wrestling Rankings for most of the season.

The fourth-ranked Hillers, meanwhile, can bolster their position with a win over Canon-McMillan. A victory would probably assure the Hillers of no worse than a fourth seed in the team tournament. Mt. Pleasant would probably be first, McGuffey second, and North Allegheny, if it holds off Shaler to win Section 3, could be third.

If Mt. Pleasant's Robbie Waller, who is still on the mend from injuries sustained in an automobile accident, does not return in time for the team tournament, the No. 4 would be a very attractive seed.

Section 5 has built a reputation as the best in Class AAA top to bottom. Since the format for the team tournament changed in 1979, the champion as come from this section 11 times. In the other eight finals, Section 5 teams finished second.

That's one reason why positioning is so important in the section race. A good seed can make or break a team's chances in the team tournament. The battles in the section have always been fiercely fought, even if the scores are not always close. It will no doubt be that way Wednesday inside Trinity's gymnasium.

Maybe the best part, at least for wrestling fans, is that these teams get to do it all over again when the team tournament begins next weekend.