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Football playoff losses give some early start on winter sports

| Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012, 12:06 a.m.
Kiski Area's Shane Kuhn (left) evades McKeesport's David Hatcher during their game on Oct. 19 at Davis Field in Vandergrift. Kuhn is getting an earlier start on wrestling season. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

High school football season ended unusually early for Alle-Kiski area teams, but not everyone was sulking.

Winter sports coaches are glad to get some of their top athletes back, in many cases, much earlier than in previous years.

Take Knoch. Last year at this time, the Knights were building a playoff run to the WPIAL Class AAA championship game at Heinz Field. Basketball players didn't cut ties with football until late November.

But Knoch fell, 28-14, to West Mifflin last Friday to bring another strong regular season to an abrupt end.

Suddenly, quarterback Dakota Bruggeman and several teammates are set to trade cleats for high-tops.

“It's good in a way,” Knoch first-year boys basketball coach Ron McNabb said. “The (football) kids worked hard; you want to see them be as successful as possible. It's sad to see them lose. But it's good to get them in the gym early. We're trying to implement a new system and the terminology is different, so the extra time will help.”

Winter practice officially begins Nov. 16 for basketball, wrestling, swimming, gymnastics and rifle.

Extended playoff runs in the past have put athletes behind in basketball preparation. Kittanning just missed the football playoffs under new coach Frank Fabian, but that has given senior Sterling Henry, the A-K's top returning scorer, a chance to get into hoops form.

“I already started (with basketball) the week I came back,” said Henry, who averaged 17.7 points per game last season. “I was at it the day after football was done. We scrimmaged half the time and this week, we've been running and doing a lot of drills. It's a big advantage.”

McNabb said there is a unique difference between “basketball shape” and “football shape.”

“These are such good athletes,” McNabb said. “After a week or so, they'll be ready to go. The thing with football guys is that they bring that physicality. They bring a presence. They're not afraid to throw their bodies around.”

Burrell senior Cole Bush didn't play basketball last season, but will return to the court this winter.

Although he and his teammates will take a rest before going through the turnstile.

“It's my senior year and I didn't want to regret not playing,” Bush said. “Most of us will take a week off to let our bodies recoop. You get into different shapes. You have to be better-winded for basketball. Football is more choppy bursts.”

The early end to football doesn't just give basketball full-stength numbers.

Kiski Area will benefit from the return of junior wrestler Shane Kuhn, who placed fourth in the PIAA Class AAA tournament last season at 285 pounds.

Kuhn was a standout tight end and linebacker for the Cavaliers, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

“I took a couple of days to regroup but I am ready to get back into wrestling,” he said. “The thing with wrestling is that you have to go non-stop for three periods. In football, you get a little bit of a break in between plays.”

Highlands, meantime, didn't get junior wrestler Allan Cratsenberg back sooner than expected. That's because he gave up wrestling to concentrate on football.

He is, however, considering playing basketball.

The returning Section 3-AA wrestling champion and state qualifier is getting Division I attention in football.

“I want to lift and get ready for next season,” he said. “It is an advantage (coming back earlier). I'm already in shape while others will be starting from scratch.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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