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Bellwood fills two head coaching positions

The Bellwood-Antis School Board hired a pair of head coaches Tuesday night that will lead the school’s two major boys winter sports programs.

Tyler Mertiff, who was named the Altoona Mirror’s Boys Basketball Player of the Year during the 2002-2003 season while he played for Tyrone, will make the jump to the other side of the Backyard Brawl rivalry and coach the Blue Devils’ boys basketball team.

“Tyler has unquestionable knowledge and passion for the game of basketball,” Bellwood-Antis athletic director Charlie Burch said. “He is well known in all basketball circles and conversations in our area. Coach Mertiff has been involved in coaching in some form or another since he was in high school. I think he really contributed to the success at Tyrone over the years.”

Mertiff served as an assistant coach under George Gripp at Tyrone until last season.

“It will be a little different at first (coaching on the other side of the rivalry), but I have been living in the Bellwood school district the last five or six years, so I have gotten to know a lot of families and friends, and I think it’s going to be an easy transition,” Mertiff said. “I always felt something similar with Tyrone and Bellwood was the will and fight to win, so I think that will be an easy transition and there won’t be too much difference other than the colors.”

Bellwood-Antis also hired Nick Torsell to lead its varsity wrestling program after Kyle Fink resigned during the season last year. Torsell was an assistant coach on last year’s team.

“Nick’s excitement and enthusiasm for wrestling is contagious,” Burch said. “He was a big part of the late-season individual success we had with three wrestlers going to regionals in February. He comes from a wrestling family with a grandfather (Jim Torsell) that was a head coach at Bellwood years ago.”

The Blue Devils didn’t win a dual meet last season but had some individual success during the District 6 championships.

“There’s room for improvement,” Torsell said. “There’s going to be many things we make changes to, and the first thing is more offseason wrestling. We want to give kids more opportunities to stay sharp during the offseason. Whenever you have kids who are only wrestling part time, you only have part-time results. We need full-time wrestlers, and the second step is building off prior success. We have kids like Ethan Norris, Xander Shank and Aarron Laird make it to regionals, and a lot of kids saw Norris in the district finals. Whenever kids see their friends have success and get hype around what they are doing, it’s going to make them want to come out and that means more numbers.”

Both hires were unanimously approved. Tim Mallon abstained from voting in the Torsell vote, because he’s related to him.

Mertiff is taking over for Patrick Cassidy, who resigned after the season. Cassidy and his predecessor, Kevin Conlon, both coached less than five years at Bellwood, but Mertiff is hoping to bring stability.

“I have a 6-year-old, 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, so I plan on this being my hopefully one and only head coaching job,” Mertiff said. “I’d love for this job to last me throughout their careers.”

Mertiff, who was also a football star at Tyrone, said he’s had plenty of mentors.

“I had a lot of coaches who were big role models for me in my life, career, whatever you want to call it,” Mertiff said. “Seeing the influence they gave me, I wanted to give that back to the athletes I want to coach. I have been coaching the last 10 years through junior high and up. It’s more than basketball to me. It’s about life lessons, and coaching will allow me to do that.”

The Blue Devils will compete in the Inter-County Conference for one more season before transitioning to the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference in the 2023-2024 school year.

“It’s a huge challenge,” Mertiff said. “The ICC is a great conference in general, but the Laurel Highlands is its own beast itself. You have BG, Tyrone coming in, Central, Penn Cambria, Johnstown, Richland, all these teams that are great in any sport there is. Basically, I want to build a character with our team in our last year in the ICC that no matter what conference we are in, we’re going to compete and strive to win that conference.”

Just as Mertiff grew up around basketball, Torsell is a lifer when it comes to wrestling.

“I have been around wrestling since I was a little boy,” Torsell said. “I grew up in a wrestling family. My grandfather was a wrestling coach for a long time, and even for Bellwood for a little bit, and as far as wanting to get into the head coaching job, I helped out last year and had a blast. I really enjoyed the kids and helping them improve. After last year, I decided I wanted to have a bigger part in that, so I applied. Fortunately, I got it, and I’m really excited to have it.”

Burch said Torsell, and his assistant coach that was also hired Tuesday, bring enthusiasm to the B-A program.

“Nick has a great personality that should get some more wrestlers involved in the program,” Burch said. “His new assistant, Trevor Helsley, was also a viable candidate for head coach. I think these two will make a great team, and there is no doubt they love Bellwood wrestling.”

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