By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Long before he was chasing perfection, Lakeside wrestler Kyle Conel learned what it was like to lose and lose a lot. The son of Luetta Miller and Otis Conel III didn’t get his hand raised after a single match as a seventh grader.
Conel learned a bit from that experience.
“My mom told me to never quit,” Conel said. “She pushed me. She made me finish the season in seventh grade and wrestle again in eighth grade. I loved wrestling after that.”
To this day, that single season plays a part in the way Conel, now a junior, approaches the sport.
“Yeah (it motivates me),” he said. “I have a hard time losing. I hate losing. I go into every match knowing I’m going to win.
“A lot of (my success this season) was because it was embarrassing to lose every match (in seventh grade). I don’t want to feel that again.”
“He didn’t want to feel that way again,” Lakeside coach Jerry Brady said. “He hasn’t forgotten that feeling. He has a burning desire not to lose. That allows him to be one of the most coachable kids to be around.”
Don’t be mistaken, however. Hatred of losing isn’t all that drives Conel.
“That’s part of it,” he said. “But it’s not the only thing. It’s really just desire – desire to win. I just want to make my mark.
“I want to be the best wrestler to ever come out of this area. (To do that), I need to win a state championship. It’s going to take a lot more work on technique and more mat time over the summer. (It’s going to take) extra work whenever I can get it.”
That said, Conel has a good start on making that mark. He just completed one of the finest seasons in
Ashtabula County history, making a run at perfection. In going 46-1 and finishing as the Division I state runner-up at 195 pounds, Conel is the Star Beacon Ashtabula County Wrestler of the Year.
“Overall, it was a great season,” Conel said. “Obviously, it was the best season I ever had. It felt pretty great, looking back on it.”
While teams and athletes are riding a long hot streak or chasing perfection the way Conel was all season, it’s tough to enjoy the ride because pressure mounts with each step forward. Instead of enjoying the latest victory, Conel was often looking ahead to the next competition. But he take the time to enjoy the ride, at least a little.
“I tried to enjoy whatever happened,” he said. “But I got caught up in the next match and forgot about trying to enjoy it.”
Forever superstitious, athletes don’t usually like to talk about streaks. Baseball’s unwritten rule is that you never talk about a no-hitter until the final out is recorded.
Conel, however, had no such hangups.
“I love talking about it,” he said. “I never get tired of it.”
Conel’s lone loss came to Massillon Perry’s Jojo Tayse in the state championship match. It wasn’t as devastating a loss as one might think.
“That goes back to not having highs that are too high and lows that are too low,” Brady said. “He fell a little short, but he gave it all he had.”
Even during that rough seventh-grade season, Brady saw something in Conel.
“He’s one of the most coachable kids,” Brady said. “When I met him, I looked at this kid and he was physically amazing. I said, ‘My God, he’s got all the tools. What’s missing?’ He won 48 matches in junior high before he lost. All we did was drill basic wrestling. He uses the same four basic moves he had then.”
Conel made the leap from very good grappler as a sophomore to being one of the best in the state with some offseason adjustments to his style.
“It was mostly because in the offseason I learned a couple new moves,” Conel said. “Before, I didn’t use any real moves on offense. My season ended last year because I didn’t have an offense.
“Having an offense this year made it easier for me.”
Conel expanded that offensive repertoire, but also decided he was going to be the one to initiate the action.
“I try to use a single leg takedown, an ankle pick and an arm drag,” he said. “Sometimes, I try and get (my opponent) out of position (before taking a shot) or I start with an underhook and go for the single.
“A lot of it was being aggressive. It’s kind of an intimidation factor over your opponent. If you go out aggressive, you know you’re going to win the match. I was a lot more confident. It makes things easier to be more confident. Jerry helped me with that. He got my confidence up.”
It was Brady who pushed Conel to become more offensive.
“Jerry pushed for me to increase my offense,” Conel said. “That was the key. That was the key to my season.”
Conel has a taylor-made workout partner right in his own house in brother Otis, and made good use of him every day in the wrestling room.
“We helped each other a lot,” Conel said. “A lot of times, he would beat me in the wrestling room. He pushed me a lot. We didn’t mess around. He helped me with my conditioning and my confidence in my moves, too. He’s a good wrestler, too, and I knew I could hit a move on him, I could hit it on anybody.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at email@example.com.