Kiski Area senior wrestlers determined to win 3rd straight WPIAL title
The memory of the 2016 WPIAL Class AAA wrestling semifinals still stings Kiski Area: a match the Cavaliers expected to win against a Canon-McMillan team they beat earlier in the season.
Yet, the match showed the fickle nature of the postseason: a surprising opening pin caused a 12-point swing Kiski Area never recovered from, ending in a 27-25 loss.
Although the Cavaliers rebounded to win the WPIAL’s third-place match, beat Canon-McMillan in a rematch at the PIAA team tournament and earned a top finish in the state, they didn’t get their goal of a WPIAL title that year. That’s fresh in the mind of Kiski Area’s seniors as the No. 1 Cavaliers prepare for the WPIAL semifinals, where they will face — coincidently enough — No. 4 Canon-McMillan at 4 p.m. Saturday at Norwin. The winner advances to the 6 p.m. championship match against either No. 2 Seneca Valley or No. 6 Waynesburg.
“We were going in there thinking we were going to roll into the finals, wrestle Belle Vernon,” senior Cam Connor recalled earlier this week. “First match, it was like a 12-point swing … and I think from there, everyone was just bummed out because that’s a huge swing.
“That definitely (stunk). I don’t want to lose again in the semis.”
That 2016 defeat represents Kiski Area’s last disappointment in the WPIAL postseason. The Cavaliers won the championship each of the past two seasons, giving them four overall, and come into Saturday as the favorite for a three-peat.
“I don’t feel like our guys feel like they have a lot of pressure, that they have to win, that they can’t have an off match,” Kiski Area coach Chris Heater said. “These guys really love to compete, and every opportunity to do that and get out there on the mat and prove themselves, they really seem to look forward to that.
“I don’t really see any panic or any stress. I know before guys go out, there’s an excited nervous kind of (feeling), but I think these guys know they can count on each other.”
The Cavaliers went into the season with the motto “Unfinished Business,” and that idea drives the team as it seeks to become the first Class AAA team to win three straight championships since Canon-McMillan won four from 2010-13.
“We have to carry on the legacy,” senior Darren Miller said. “At least I feel like I do, being here (and) winning the last two titles during my high school career. I feel like we have to carry that on and get a third one.
“You can’t be content with where you are. You have to keep pushing. We want the title. If you keep telling yourself that enough and keep working enough, it should come.”
In a classification that sees a fair amount of shakeup, Kiski Area stands out for its consistency. The Cavaliers’ WPIAL postseason streak dates to 1990. They won titles in 1997, ‘03, ‘18 and ‘19 and finished as runner-up in ‘00, ‘01, ‘05 and ‘10.
The stability begins at the top, as Chuck Tursky coached Kiski Area from 1987-2015, winning a WPIAL-record 505 matches, before shifting over to an assistant role. Heater, Kiski Area’s top assistant since 1992, took over the No. 1 job when Tursky stepped down.
“We’ve all been doing this for a long time,” Heater said. “Things we would maybe stress over or panic over before or get uptight about before, we don’t anymore. It’s just being consistent with the message, with the technique, just trying to keep the kids’ focus. We look at what’s in front of us. … Obviously, the big picture is there, but if we just take it one piece at a time, then it’s not so big.”
Heater also credited the work the wrestlers put in, both in and out of season. Kiski Area traditionally goes to a team camp each summer, and the work ramps up once the season starts.
“I think we had Sunday off this week, but every day that we don’t have a match, we’re in here two hours, two hours and 15 minutes,” senior Troy Kuhn said. “However long we’re in here, we’re in here working. That’s just what it is.”
Kiski Area hopes its hard work gets rewarded Saturday with another title.
“This is my last year and my last go at it, so I just want to finish on top like I have the last two years,” Connor said. “I don’t want to lose because that feeling (stinks), and winning WPIALs is just a big deal. It’s awesome, and it’s something to look back on as something our team accomplished. It’d just be awesome to win again.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.