Avella boys basketball coach Mike Macik has coached some two-sport stars over the years, but typically the teen filling those shoes also excels in another popular high school sport such as baseball or football.

And then there’s the case of current Avella standout Westley Burchianti, who in addition to basketball shines in … wait for it … equestrian. 

For Macik, having a talent such as Burchianti is a first.

“Umm, yes. I would say so,” he emphasized.

While his coach might not be horsing around, the fact that Burchianti does exactly that while ranking as one of the top basketball scorers in the WPIAL makes him a unique talent.

Burchianti is a 6-foot-1 senior guard averaging 21.9 points per game, placing him second among WPIAL Class 1A players and in the top 20 overall in the WPIAL. A three-year starter, Burchianti is the top player and lone senior on an Avella team that is 8-8 overall and 3-2 in Class 1A Section 1.

To Burchianti, horse is more than just some game you play on the basketball court. The animals themselves have been a major part of his life.

“Horses are one of my things,” Burchianti said. “Growing up on a farm, they all have their own personalities and they’re all so unique. They’re such sweet creatures.”

Westley Burchianti, a senior basketball standout at Avella High School, sits on his horse at Rising Star Stables in Washington on Jan. 17, 2024. (Submitted)

Burchianti’s family has owned and operated Rising Stars Stables in Washington since 1998. The family resides on the property, which consists of 50 acres of land and features three barns and both an outdoor and indoor arena. Westley’s mother, Karin, and sister, Brooke, work there as trainers, and the boarding facility is home to 16 horses. Westley, 18, is a competitive rider just like siblings Brooke, 24, and Colton, 19. 

“All my kids do a little bit of riding. My daughter has sort of taken over the business and has done quite well,” said Karin Burchianti, whose husband, Rob, is the sports editor of the Uniontown Herald-Standard.

Westley helps out with the horses when his schedule allows for it. His chores range from feeding the horses to cleaning up after them.

“That’s one of the things,” Burchianti said, “after you have your fun at the competitions, you then have to muck out the stalls.”

Burchianti has participated in competitions in close to a dozen states, with his primary focus being eventing. Eventing is a competition in which a horse and rider square off against other competitors across three disciplines — dressage, cross country and show jumping. 

“My favorite part is cross country just because you’re on your horse and going so fast,” he said.

Burchianti also competes on the cross country and baseball teams at Avella but missed most of his junior season on the diamond after suffering the first significant injury of his riding career while preparing for the Prince Phillip Cup Invitational Games competition at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in April. The competition is considered one of the most prestigious equestrian events in the world.

“I landed on the saddle a little bit weird, and by what I’ve been told he hurt his back,” Westley said of horse Eternal Hope, now 15. “He bucked, which was unusual. And then I fell off and landed right on my collarbone.”

Winter Hope is Westley’s sister’s horse, one he has been using for competitions since “growing out of” his pony, Wyatt, whom Westley has had since he was 9 or 10 years old. Westley called Wyatt “a really good boy.”

Avella’s Westley Burchianti drives into the lane during the Eagles’ win against Frazier at the McGuffey Tip-off Tournament on Dec. 2, 2023. He was named to the all-tournament team for the second year in a row. (Submitted)

Burchianti’s last equestrian competition came in Maryland near the end of October, he said. Since then, his focus has shifted from leading a horse to leading a basketball team. Burchianti is having a big senior season for Avella, as he tops the team not only in scoring with those 21.9 points per game but also in rebounds with eight a game. He has scored in double-digits in all but one game and scored a season-high 30 in December wins against Frazier and Freedom.

“He’s our best player,” Macik said. “Best defender. Best rebounder. He’s really good with the ball in his hands. He can take the ball to the hoop. He’s worked a lot on his shooting.”

Burchianti said his primary goal is to help bring Avella a postseason win. It hasn’t happened since 2007. The Eagles qualified for the WPIAL playoffs during Burchianti’s freshman season but forfeited their first playoff game after a player tested positive for COVID-19. A year later, the team went just 2-20. Last season, the Eagles finished 6-17 after losing in the first round. The eight wins this season are the program’s most since winning nine during the 2015-16 season.

“This team has come so far,” said Westley, who was teammates with brother Colton before the latter graduated last year. “I’m really proud of our team overall. We’ve worked hard to get to this point. I’m glad to be a part of a winning team.”

A really young one at that. Burchianti is the only senior on a team that includes just two juniors. The only other player averaging in double-digits scoring is sophomore guard Bryce Wright (12.9 ppg).

“We’re pretty young, so it took him a little bit to start trusting the young kids,” Macik said. “They’re young, but they can play, too. And he’s bought into that this season.”

Avella senior Westley Burchianti rides Eternal Hope while competing in the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy in October 2023. (Erin Gilmore Photography)

Macik, who said he hasn’t ridden a horse in 20 years, apparently doesn’t have much knowledge of his star player’s passion for horses.

“I just know they have a bunch of horses,” Macik said.

However, a couple of Burchianti’s teammates have in fact witnessed the operation first-hand.

“I’ve had a few come down to watch what I do. They always think it’s very fascinating,” he said.

What would also be fascinating is if a player proficient in riding horses is the horse his basketball team rides to a first playoff win in 17 years. 

“It’s one of those things that hasn’t happened for our basketball team in so long,” Burchianti said. ‘It would be so huge for the program.”

Burchianti said his next equestrian competition likely won’t be until April. Upon graduating from Avella in May, Burchianti said he plans on attending college. And if he does, chances are he’ll be connected to an extracurricular activity that involves either a rubber ball or a horse.

“I’m thinking about going to play basketball in college, but if I don’t get the right opportunity, I might take one of the horses to school,” Burchianti said. “Equestrian teams in college are club sports, but I’d definitely think about taking one of the horses and going somewhere to compete.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.