By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Lakeside junior Kyle Conel doesn’t make a habit of looking forward when it comes to his wrestling. He also doesn’t make a habit of adjusting his style to that of his competition.
And that seems to work out just fine.
Conel, the son of Luetta Miller and Otis Conel III, battled his way to a fourth-place finish at Flonationals at Kovalchick Athletic and Convention Complex at Indiana University of Pennsylvania the weekend of April 5-7.
“I always want to go in and win it,” Conel said. “I just wrestled how I always do. I took it one match at a time and didn’t worry about who I was facing next.
“I didn’t know any of (my competitors). They were all from different states. I didn’t watch much of the competition until I had to face them.”
With that finish, Conel was the highest-placing competitor from Ohio.
“That made me feel great,” Conel said. “I know there were some great guys like Evan Rosborough (of Riverside) and Billy Miller (of Perry) down there.”
Both Rosborough (220 pounds) and Miller (heavyweight) finished sixth.
Ever confident in his ability to rise to the occasion, Conel wasn’t shocked at finishing as well as he had.
“I wasn’t very surprised,” he said. “I knew if I wrestled my best, I’d get a place. I just didn’t know which one that was going to be.”
Conel beat Josiah Thomas of Michigan, 7-2, in his opener, pinned Andrew Phelps of Pennsylvania, and beat Nezar Haddad of Pennsylvania, 7-2, to reach the championship semifinals.
There, Conel suffered a setback, falling, 3-1, to Jeramy Sweany of California, who went on to finish second. He rebounded to beat L.J. Barlow of Pennsylvania to reach the consolation finals where he was pinned by Tim McDonald of Idaho.
“I was able to get a few points on my feet,” Conel said. “I think I pinned a couple of guys, one of them was in overtime. They didn’t give us much time between matches. I used that against one of them and put him on his back at the end of the match when he was tired.”
It helped Conel that he had been working hard since the state wrestling tournament in March.
“I’ve been going to Titan Wrestling Club in Aurora and Jerry (Brady, the Lakeside coach) has a shop where he has open mats for wrestlers,” Conel said.
Despite a 46-1 record and a runner-up finish at the Division I state tournament, Conel felt he had something to prove.
“I wanted to make my mark,” Conel said. “A lot of people doubted me. That pushes me to get better all the time.
“Just because I lost in the (state) final didn’t mean I was going to lose at nationals. I wanted to show how tough Ohio was as a wrestling state.”
Conel will have another chance to prove himself with the Disney Duals June 28-July 2.
There may not be a whole of proving left to do. Conel has already received a scholarship offer from Kent State, which had never before offered a junior a full-ride. He’s also caught the attention of other Division I programs, including the University of Virginia.
“That feels really good,” Conel said. “It takes a little bit of the pressure off. It doesn’t take it all away, but I know some colleges are looking at me for a scholarship in wrestling at a Division I program.
“I got a hand-written note from the Virginia coach. That’s something that means a lot to me. I know I’m doing something right and that I have the right people helping me.”
Conel is keeping his options open and will not accept the offer from Kent State, at least not this early in the process.
“That’s all just getting started for me,” Conel said. “That’s more than I could hope for. Maybe that was just the start of many (offers). It’s early. Maybe there are other offers out there waiting for me.
“I’m looking for something close to home, not necessarily what they’re offering. I’m looking at how good the wrestling programs are. That’s the most important thing. If I like the program, if I like the coaches and if I like the wrestlers, I’ll go there.”
Of course, there are other considerations Conel is looking at, as well.
“Education is very important to me,” he said. “After college wrestling, there isn’t much out there (in the sport). I’ll have to fall back on my education, so that’s the most important part.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.