Strategy key for Burrell, Kiski Area wrestling coaches in team postseason
Josh Shields took a rough, if facetious, estimate of when he begins preparation for the team wrestling postseason.
“Last year, right around March,” Burrell’s sixth-year coach said with a laugh. “The brackets for the team things relatively stay the same, so I knew the types of teams we would be looking to go against. I don’t do a deep-dive analysis on the rosters, but there’s teams I have highlighted.”
Although wrestling appears to be the ultimate physical sport at first and second glance, a high amount of strategy goes into coaches’ preparation for matches.
With Burrell and Kiski Area opening the defense of their WPIAL championships in Class AA and AAA respectively, Shields and his Cavaliers counterpart, Chris Heater, need to be at the top of their game as well.
“We have weeks involved in what we’re looking at in planning, and we have to do that as coaches,” Heater said. “That’s what’s necessary to make sure we put our team in a place that they want to be in. They’re the ones that have to go out on the mat and win, but we’re the ones that try to make sure we put our guys in the right places and against the right guys and help their efforts out.”
Primarily, that comes in building the right lineup to beat the top-notch teams in the WPIAL and, potentially, the PIAA playoffs. A high amount of planning goes into that as coaches determine whether they should move wrestlers to a higher weight class, depending on a potential matchup.
Depending on their weight going into a match, wrestlers can “wrestle up” one weight class if a coach determines it the right move — for instance, moving their 120-pounder to 126 to better utilize that wrestler in the match.
Typically coaches will inform wrestlers of the possibility either in the days leading up to the match, or even the day of.
“I’d say before a match, they come up to me and say there’s a chance to be bumping up because you never know … there’s a bunch of factors that go into it,” Kiski Area senior Cam Connor said. “You’ve just got to go out and wrestle your match.”
Like Heater said, weeks of strategizing go into making lineup determinations — but something as simple as a coin flip can make those best-laid plans go awry.
Before each match, the referee flips a coin or disc, and the winner of the flip can determine whether to send its wrestlers out first in either the odd or even bouts. The loser of the flip, ultimately, can end up at its opponent’s mercy, needing to adjust on the fly to whatever their decision is.
“Sometimes you have a plan and you don’t get a flip and it’s like, all right, do we just move ahead and hope somebody flips a match for us?” Heater said. “Or do you kind of change in midstream a little bit? Sometimes when you lose the flip, it’s like, well, we didn’t really want to put this guy here and this guy here, but we’re going to have to roll the dice and take a shot at it. Sometimes that’s what you have to do.”
Perhaps that’s why Shields says he prepares for matches with the worst-case scenario in mind.
“If we go out there and have our worst match, what could happen?” he said. “I really base everything off that. If even under our worst-case scenario we still can win that dual meet, then I’m probably not going to make any adjustments. I also look at it as, OK, what is this coach thinking? Does he see that he might not have a chance to win this dual straight-up, so how is he going to find their wins?”
With 132-pounder Bryan Gaul out with injury, Shields ultimately did bump up some of his wrestlers to fill that hole in last week’s Section 3-AA tournament final against Derry, and it paid off for the Bucs with a win.
The Bucs lost narrowly against Boiling Springs in last season’s PIAA tournament after the Bubblers moved up wrestlers in their lineup, changing the matchups.
But while Shields has used his strategy to great effectiveness in the past — Burrell has won 12 consecutive WPIAL titles, after all — typically he prefers to keep his wrestlers in the weight classes they’re most comfortable.
“(Former Burrell coach Chris) Como taught me, you always save your for-sure wins,” Shields said. “If you have a for-sure win, take that for-sure win. You don’t move up and jeopardize getting that win. At the end of the day, most dual meets, if you get seven wins, you’re going to win that dual meet. Obviously, it can come down to bonus points, but as a coach, you find seven wins first and get bonus points after that.
“I’m not a big believer in moving guys up and down, particularly in the regular season. Postseason we’ll do a little more … but in general, I like to wrestle straight up.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.