Coaching staff stability key for Burrell, Kiski Area wrestling programs
Friday, February 2, 2018 | 11:18 PM
Danny Starr sees dozens of different faces on the team photos that plaster the walls of Kiski Area's wrestling room.
Yet for all the varied wrestlers from the Cavaliers championship teams over the past two decades, two presences remain consistent in each snapshot: coaches Chris Heater and Chuck Tursky.
“They've been here for so long,” said Starr, Kiski Area's senior 195-pounder. “It feels really good to do so well for them, too, for them and school.”
Kiski Area, which will go for its second consecutive WPIAL Class AAA championship and fourth overall beginning with a semifinal match against Waynesburg at noon Saturday at Trinity, built a long-standing wrestling tradition on the strength of its coaching staff. And the Cavaliers' neighbors at Burrell created a dominant Class AA program in much the same fashion: The Bucs will go for their 12th consecutive WPIAL title Saturday, starting with a semifinal match against McGuffey at noon at Chartiers-Houston.
“Someone once told me, ‘If you're the smartest man in the room, you're in trouble,' ” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “You always want to be surrounded by guys who are smarter than you, and we have that with this coaching staff.”
Consistency is key
Heater and Tursky began coaching together 27 seasons ago as a virtual tag team; Tursky the coach, with Heater his top assistant and virtual co-coach. It worked to the tune of WPIAL titles in 1997 and 2003.
Three years ago, Tursky and Heater swapped roles … and little changed, least of all the program's success. The Cavaliers beat Canon-McMillan for the WPIAL title last season before finishing third at the PIAA tournament.
Assistants Don Toy and Matt Kiebler also have years of experience with the Cavaliers.
“Everybody asks me what do you attribute the success of your program to?” Heater said. “I would say No. 1 is the consistency of our coaching staff.”
Burrell's 11 consecutive championships came under four different coaches — Chris Como (2007-09), Ryan Yates (2010-11), Bud Sines (2012-13) and Josh Shields (2014-17). Burrell also won WPIAL titles under Como in 2004 and Shawn DesLauriers in 1997.
If it appears Burrell experienced significant coaching turnover in that time, looks can be deceiving. Shields was an assistant under Sines before ascending to the top job. Como remains on staff, as does longtime assistant Isaac Greeley.
The other assistants include Steve Ansani, Gino Lanzino, Zach Pisano and Clint Schaefer; Lanzino and Pisano are former Burrell wrestlers and familiar with the Bucs' tradition and style.
“If I'm working on one kid, I have confidence that the other handful of coaches we've got are relaying the same type of message that I'm relaying, if not better,” Shields said. “Just knowing I can count on them, it allows me to focus on some of the things on the administrative side that coaches have to do.
“As coaches, you don't do this for the money. They are just here to help out, and they know the benefit of wrestling. It's just great to have, to be able to rely and not have to worry about so-and-so coach doing their job.”
At any point during a match Heater can look to the seat next to him and see the WPIAL's all-time leader in wins. Tursky retired in 2015 with 505 career victories, the only coach in WPIAL wrestling history to reach 500, and is a member of five different halls of fame, including the Alle-Kiski Valley, PIAA, WPIAL and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Of course, Heater sat directly next to Tursky for nearly 400 of those wins, so he has plenty of success to draw from as well.
“They're going to give you their money, their time, their effort, their energy,” senior Isaac Reid said. “Everything they do is dedicated to the team. They're great role models.
“They're wise, and they know how to win.”
The Burrell coaching staff is equally as decorated.
Shields won an NCAA individual title at Mercyhurst. Como was an All-American at Pitt-Johnstown, served as an assistant for UPJ's 1996 national title team and for Burrell's 1997 WPIAL title team and led the Bucs to four WPIAL championships and the 2008 PIAA title as coach. Greeley twice became an All-American at Pitt-Johnstown and was a part of two national title teams. Ansani, the longtime Valley coach, also coached more than a dozen All-Americans at USA Wrestling National Championship tournaments through his Bones Wrestling Club in New Kensington.
“All their experience combined is crazy,” freshman Ian Oswalt said. “Just to learn from them, it's a really big advantage for our team to learn from everyone. Other schools don't have as many coaches. Our coaching staff has a lot of them, and they just know a lot.”
Different strokes, different folks
Wrestling is unique, Heater said, because there's no one way to do it successfully with the variety of different wrestlers, techniques and styles. Coaches have to adapt accordingly.
“It's not like throwing a football and you teach the same way of throwing a football,” he said. “Having the coaching staff we have with the experience we have, I think that's one of the reasons we're able to adapt and coach to the talent we have each year.”
Shields said Burrell's coaches all have their own strengths.
Shields himself is a master strategist and motivator whose sideline presence can become rather animated — “some teams, their coaches don't like to say as much, but I like when our coach is the corner kicking and screaming for us,” junior Bryan Gaul said. Como is a strong defensive coach, Greeley has a mixed-martial arts background that Oswalt says can lead to “funky” moves, and Ansani has a decorated background as a freestyle coach.
With their powers combined, it's led to a WPIAL-record 11 consecutive championships … and maybe another one Saturday.
“The coaches can do everything but basically wrestle for us,” Gaul said. “We've got to know what to do when we step on the mat. We've got to perform ourselves. But they can help us in training and technique. They basically just show us what's right.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
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