When longtime Kiski Area wrestling coach Chuck Tursky revisits memories of the 2003 team that won the WPIAL Class AAA title and reached the PIAA finals, he recalls the pinning and scoring prowess of the Cavaliers' stars — individual WPIAL placewinners such as 215-pounder Scott McKillop, heavyweight Branden Rupert, 171-pounder Mike Corcetti and 145-pounder Steve Stedrak.
But Tursky also thinks of the unheralded Cavaliers who, though not particularly reliable for pins or wins, excelled at minimizing the severity of their losses.
For programs with WPIAL and PIAA dual meet title aspirations, wrestlers who slow down bouts and stifle their opponents' abilities to pin or even score takedowns are almost as essential as grapplers who dominate.
Burrell, Kiski Area, Kittanning and Valley each have WPIAL team tournament first-round matches Wednesday — Kiski Area (14-2) is the No. 5 seed in Class AAA, while Burrell (8-3), Kittanning (7-7) and Valley (9-10) are No. 1, No. 6, and No. 14, respectively, in Class AA. All four teams want pins from their proven stars, and they'll ask grapplers in unfavorable matchups to minimize bonus-point chances for opponents.
“When you're being dominated, sometimes you have to resort to still battling but not going to your back,” Tursky said. “It's part of the game.”
Referees determine whether a wrestler is stalling. The National Federation of State High School Association's rulebook states that “each wrestler is required to make an honest attempt to stay within the 10-foot circle and wrestle aggressively, regardless of the position or the time or the score of the match.”
Strategically, even after wrestlers are warned for stalling, they're generally better off giving up penalty points that lead to major decisions or technical falls (worth four and five team points, respectively) than surrendering pins (worth six team points).
“If you are outmatched and you save your team a point, I'm not going to turn a blind eye to that — I'm going to praise you for not getting pinned,” Tursky said.
Junior 132-pounder Vaughn Curcio and freshman 160-pounder Vinny Romano are two Cavaliers who've successfully limited the cost of their losses this season.
Curcio, who is 16-11, has not allowed a pin, and he has secured six. Romano, who is 15-12, has not allowed a pin or a technical fall, and he has 10 pins. Kiski Area has 134 pins and has allowed just 24.
Valley coach Steve Ansani believes the ability to avoid pins stems from the combination of a little technical know-how and a lot of stubbornness.
“There are kids who are just tough enough to not get pinned; they refuse to get pinned,” Ansani said. “To me, getting pinned is the worst thing that can happen. It means total domination. I don't really tell my kids to stall. I tell them to stay off their back.”
Valley freshman 138-pounder Chris O'Sullivan is working through his inexperience without costing his team dearly on the scoreboard. O'Sullivan, who is 8-14, has allowed one pin and zero technical falls, and he has six pins.
Quite often, wrestlers find the will to resist pins or fight off opponents' shots when they hear the roar of their teammates from the bench area. A peer-pressure dynamic has been key for Burrell, the seven-time defending WPIAL Class AA team champion.
“We always say, ‘Don't let go of the rope,' ” Bucs coach Josh Shields said. “We treat this like a family, and you wouldn't want to let your brothers down. … They have to do the most they possibly can for this team. We tell them they have to make every point a fight.”
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