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Providing leadership

Senior Nathan Bursk is hoping to help the Phoenix Pirates keep their playoff hopes alive

Phoenix High's Nathan Bursk is a walking trophy case.

The 6-foot senior has been a part of four different Skyline Championship teams ' three for soccer, one for basketball.

The Pirate boys basketball team couldn't give Bursk his fifth conference title, however, but a trip to the Class 3A state playoffs could still be in the cards.

One of our goals was to win the conference championship, says Bursk, 18. Obviously, that didn't happen. But we still feel like we can make a run at the (state) playoffs.

— To get there, Phoenix, which tied Henley for third in the conference but lost a coin flip Wednesday determining the seeding of the three-team Skyline playoff, must defeat Mazama in tonight's 7 o'clock contest at Phoenix High, then take out Henley on Saturday at Klamath Falls. The winner advances to the state playoffs as the league's No. — seed.

We've got our work cut out for us, that's for sure, says Pirate coach Kevin Dixon.

Phoenix limped into the Skyline postseason, losing its final three games by a combined score of 185-126.

The offense has stagnated recently due in large part to the lack of a natural point guard running the show.

Bursk stepped in briefly to fill the void but, according to Dixon, is more effective at a wing.

(Point guard) is not a natural fit for him, says Dixon, who's contemplating moving junior Joey Shepherd and sophomore Dustin Smith to the point position for tonight's game. Nate's more effective as a slasher who looks to drive and attack.

But Bursk's biggest contribution to the squad is his leadership and experience on winning teams.

He's the only returning starter with a lot of varsity experience, says Dixon. He's just a competitor. Nate is always giving 100 percent.

He's not a real vocal kid, he leads more by example.

Bursk was a first-team all-state and all-Skyline soccer defender in the fall.

The success of the Phoenix soccer team, which made a run to the state semifinals, delayed Bursk's start in basketball.

I was a little rusty, says Bursk of his late start to basketball. It didn't take me that long to get the hang of things.

Phoenix spent 11 of its first 12 games on the road, coming away with a 6-6 start.

Yet when Skyline play tipped off, Bursk and the Pirates started to find their groove.

We're a young team, says Bursk, who is averaging nearly 11 points per game in league action. I think it took a while for the guys to come together.

Phoenix lost a number of seniors from last season's conference championship team ' many of which were Bursk's friends.

Nate's a very mature kid, says Dixon. I think one of the reasons he struggled a little early was a lot of his friends were seniors last year. It took him a while to get used to the new guys in the mix.

Bursk started to catch fire ' he scored a season-high 24 points in a league-opening win over Illinois Valley ' and Phoenix rolled off four straight wins to start conference. The Pirates' only losses came to top-ranked and unbeaten Hidden Valley, second-place North Valley and Henley.

Basketball, however, takes up just a portion of Bursk's busy life.

He keeps up a 3.8 GPA while helping maintain the u-cut family Christmas tree farm on Camp Baker Road.

Bursk's father, Michael, passed away 10 years ago. Now he and his mother Cynthia and older sister Abby share a house while tending to the tree farm.

I do quite a bit of work (with the farm), says Bursk, whose uncle, Larry Larsen. I was out there today doing some things, as a matter of fact.

Bursk has already been accepted to Southern Oregon University. But, he says, some Portland schools with soccer programs are still showing interest.

Dixon feels Bursk will be successful wherever he ends up.

Nate is a very personable, polite kid, says Dixon. He's really grown up into a fine young man.

I'll tell you what, if my (eight-year-old) son grows up to be anything like Nate, then I'll be a very proud father.

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483 or e-mail .