The Bellwood-Antis School Board on Tuesday night hired a pair of head coaches who will lead the school’s two main boys’ winter sports programs.
Tyler Mertiff, who was named Altoona Mirror’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year in the 2002-03 season while playing for Tyrone, will make the leap across the Backyard Brawl rivalry and coach the Blue Devils men’s basketball team.
“Tyler has unquestionable knowledge and passion for basketball,” said Bellwood-Antis athletic director Charlie Burch. “He is well known in all basketball circles and conversations in our region. Coach Mertiff has been involved in coaching in one form or another since he was in high school. I think he’s really contributed to Tyrone’s success over the years.
Mertiff was an assistant coach under George Gripp at Tyrone until last season.
“It will be a little different at first (training on the other side of the rivalry), but I’ve lived in the Bellwood School District for five or six years, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of families and friends. friends, and I think it’s going to be an easy transition,” Mertif said. “I always felt something similar with Tyrone and Bellwood, it was the will and the fight to win, so I think it will be an easy transition and there won’t be too much of a difference apart from the colors.”
Bellwood-Antis also hired Nick Torsell to lead its college wrestling program after Kyle Fink quit during last year’s season. Torsell was the team’s assistant coach last year.
“Nick’s excitement and enthusiasm for wrestling is infectious,” said Burch. “He was a big part of the season-ending individual success we had with three wrestlers making it to regionals in February. He comes from a wrestling family with a grandfather (Jim Torsell) who was a head coach at Bellwood years ago.
The Blue Devils didn’t win a double tie last season but had individual successes in the District 6 Championships.
“There is room for improvement” Torsell said. “There are going to be a lot of things that we will make changes to, and the first thing is more off-season wrestling. We want to give kids more opportunities to stay sharp during the offseason. Whenever you have kids who only wrestle part-time, you only have part-time results. We need full-time wrestlers, and the second step is to build on past successes. We have kids like Ethan Norris, Xander Shank and Aarron Laird going to regionals, and a lot of kids have seen Norris in the district finals. Whenever kids see their friends succeeding and are excited about what they’re doing, it makes them want to go out and that means more numbers.
Both hires were unanimously approved. Tim Mallon abstained from voting in Torsell’s vote because he is related to him.
Mertiff succeeds Patrick Cassidy, who resigned after the season. Cassidy and his predecessor, Kevin Conlon, both coached for less than five years at Bellwood, but Mertiff hopes to bring stability.
“I have a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, so I anticipate that will be my one and only job as a head coach,” Mertif said. “I would like this work to last me throughout their career.”
Mertiff, who was also a football star at Tyrone, said he had a lot of mentors.
“I’ve had a lot of coaches who have been great role models for me in my life, my career, whatever you want to call it,” Mertif said. “Seeing the influence they gave me, I wanted to give that back to the athletes I want to coach. I coached for the past 10 years through college and beyond. It’s more than basketball to me. It’s a life lesson, and coaching will allow me to do that.
The Blue Devils will compete in the Inter-County Conference for one more season before moving to the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference in the 2023-24 school year.
“It’s a huge challenge” Mertif said. “The ICC is a great conference in general, but the Laurel Highlands are their own beast themselves. You have BG, Tyrone coming in, Central, Penn Cambria, Johnstown, Richland, all these teams that are great at all sports Basically, I want to build a character with our team over our last year at ICC that no matter what conference we’re in, we’re going to compete and strive to win that conference.
Just as Mertiff grew up around basketball, Torsell has a life sentence when it comes to wrestling.
“I’ve been wrestling since I was a little boy” Torsell said. “I grew up in a family of wrestlers. My grandfather was a wrestling coach for a long time, and even for Bellwood for a little while, and as far as wanting to be a head coach, I helped the last year and had a blast. Really enjoyed the kids and helping them improve. After last year, I decided I wanted to play a bigger part in it, so I applied. Fortunately, I got it, and I’m really excited to have it.
Burch said Torsell, and his assistant coach who was also hired on Tuesday, bring enthusiasm to the BA program.
“Nick has a great personality that should involve more wrestlers in the program,” said Burch. “His new assistant, Trevor Helsley, was also a viable candidate for the head coaching job. I think these two will make a great team, and there’s no doubt they love Bellwood’s wrestling.