Surging Kiski Area wrestling team calls itself 'Band of Brothers'
Joey Blumer marvelled at the length of time that passed between Kiski Area's two most recent WPIAL wrestling championships.
“We were 3 years old the last time Kiski won a WPIAL championship,” the senior 145-pounder said after the Cavaliers dispatched Canon-McMillan, 41-21, on Saturday to win their first title since 2003. “We were barely walking, so to be the first ones since then is amazing.”
One of the WPIAL's most consistently successful programs — Kiski Area leads Class AAA with 11 semifinal appearances since 2000 — the Cavaliers nonetheless couldn't reach the mountaintop in the 14 years between titles. Kiski Area made the semifinals last season, where it fell to Canon-McMillan — a team it beat during the regular season and again in the PIAA tournament.
This time around, the Cavaliers rolled to the title with dominant wins over Franklin Regional in the semifinals and Canon-McMillan in the finals.
“We've been in the final four so many times, but in (Class AAA) it's so hard to win because there's so much talent around here,” said Chris Heater, in his second season as Kiski Area's coach after more than 20 as an assistant. “This is very special. This is 26 years of coaching for me, and I've been around for quite a few of them. But man, what a special bunch of guys.”
While Blumer said health played a large role in Kiski Area's run to the championship, he pinpointed an even larger reason: the team's bond.
To a man, the Cavaliers pointed to their closeness as the pivotal factor. They wear hooded sweatshirts with “TEAM” on the front, and they made “Band of Brothers” both their slogan and the most-used hashtag on their Twitter account, @KAWrestling.
“Everything we've been working towards so hard has been based on the support we have for each other,” senior 220-pounder Tom Starr said.
Many of Kiski Area's wrestlers grew up together, learning the sport at Kiski Area Youth Wrestling and Pride Wrestling, a club run by Doug Joseph — a 1993 Kiski Area graduate and later an NCAA champion at Gannon.
“We just took a picture together, and almost every kid on our team was in our original Pride club picture,” Blumer said Saturday. “We've been together since we started wrestling at 5 years old, and I just think that camaraderie between all of us is (powerful). We are actually like brothers, I believe.”
Starr said the road to this year's WPIAL title began at last season's PIAA Class AAA team tournament. After the Cavaliers lost their quarterfinal match to Nazareth on tiebreaker criteria, they rebounded in the consolation bracket to place fifth.
“There'd never been so much energy in one another, and we fed off it,” Starr said. “It was something that we fed off through the long matches. As a team, I feel we can really accomplish everything together.”
That run created even more motivation for this season, even though Kiski Area needed to replace some of its key wrestlers who graduated. But the Cavaliers dominated their competition, posting blowout victories in most of their dual matches, winning their second consecutive Westmoreland County Coaches Association championship and taking second at the prestigious Powerade Christmas Tournament.
“I've never really worked with a group that was more deserving than this group to win this title,” Heater said. “We just have a bunch of hard-working, resilient guys.”
“They just work hard, man. There's no questions about anything. I told them in big matches you've got to be willing to be moved down, moved in, moved out, moved up, come out and not wrestle at all, or wrestle twice. They say whatever we've got to do to win, we want to win.”
Now Kiski Area turns its attention to the state tournament, where the Cavaliers face District 3 third-place team Central Dauphin in the first round at 8 p.m. Thursday. Their best finish in Hershey was second place in 2003.
“We just need to keep doing what we've been doing, pull together and continue being the band of brothers,” junior 195-pounder Danny Starr said.