As Terry Buschelman’s heart finds its rhythm, so does his Omaha Bryan boys soccer team.
Since the coach returned permanently from a seven-hour surgery to make his heart beat correctly, the Bears have been able to return their attention to the field.
“The very, very next game, we started playing better,” senior goalkeeper John Anaya said. “Since then we’ve been playing great ball. We haven’t had a bad game since.”
Buschelman, 62, had surgery March 21 after doctors discovered that the top of his heart wasn’t pumping but the bottom was, which led to atrial fibrillation. Medication didn’t work. He was weak and exhausted because he wasn’t getting enough oxygen into his system.
A catheter was inserted into both the right and left ventricles and doctors lasered the nerve nodes that were going wild.
“I’m getting stronger now,” Buschelman said. “I hope I’m back on the mend. I can be back up to 85 percent after all is said and done.”
Buschelman had high hopes for his team and wanted to hold off having surgery until after the season. In his sixth season after a successful nine-year run at Elkhorn Mount Michael, he had more than 70 boys go out for the team, enough to field varsity, junior varsity, reserve and freshman squads for the first time. Those one-win seasons when he started were a thing of the past.
Doctors were warning him that he was ripe for a heart attack or stroke. He was so weak he had to sit in a lawn chair on the sidelines.
“Even though I was there, I wasn’t really coaching for a couple of games,” he said.
That’s when Buschelman turned the program over to his assistants and underwent surgery. Greg Buelt took the varsity team, Ben Christiansen the junior varsity, Matt Pierson the reserves and Alan Nesbitt the freshmen. Most of them have been with him for years, and the players trusted them.
Buschelman said they did a great job. But it wasn’t the same.
“We were always wondering when he was going to be at practices or at games,” Anaya said. “It wasn’t incredibly difficult. It still definitely was on your mind.”
As Buschelman recovered, he’d sit in the stands at a few practices or on the sidelines in games. A permanent substitute teacher at Bryan, he said support from his fellow teachers and school administrators was amazing.
It hasn’t been an easy road back. He was so exhausted sometimes after attending a game or practice, he’d go home and sleep in a chair for hours.
He’s still only at 45 percent — doctors say it will take 90 days for his heart to stabilize — but his desire to return to the field was strong.
“I’m a retired Marine,” he said. “We just don’t want to be letting people down.”
It was on April 4, against Bellevue West in the Metro tournament, that Buschelman finally felt that he was ready to take back the reins of the team.
“Before we went out on the field, we were on the bus. I said, ‘Guys, I’m back. I’m the coach now. Here is what I expect you to do. Let’s start playing the game the way we know how to at Bryan,’ and that’s what we started doing,” Buschelman said. “We started playing so tough. In the last six games, we’re finally playing Bryan fundamental soccer again.”
After a 2-6 start, the Bears have gone 3-3 to improve their record to 5-9. Coaches of opposing teams have complimented Buschelman on how hard his team competes.
The fire is back, and Buschelman said his varsity is playing the best it’s played all year.
He’s excited about games against Papillion-La Vista South on Wednesday and Millard South on Thursday, part of the NPSC Cup tournament, and against Omaha Burke on Saturday before districts start next week.
The Bears may be able to shake things up in the postseason, Buschelman said. Bryan’s first state tournament berth could be a possibility.
“It just seems like now everything is clicking,” he said. “I don’t think it’s because I’m back. I just think we have everybody where they need to be, including me.”
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