The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

March 3, 2014

A Don McCormack column: Now that’s a weekend to remember!

Talk about a whirlwind few days for the local sports scene. In fact, here’s a good question I’ve been kicking around between my ears for the past day, or so:

Name a better, more successful 24-hour period than what went down, starting Friday night through Saturday night.

Consider:

n Friday night, coach Nancy Barbo’s Geneva Eagles pretty much controlled/dominated the top-seeded team in the Lakeside Division II girls sectional-district tournament — East Tech — and planted their flag in winning the district championship, settling on a 45-38 verdict, though it wasn’t that close.

n Saturday afternoon, coach Jeff Compan’s Pymatuning Valley Lakers — the heavyweight champion of Division III teams in Ohio as the state’s only undefeated squad in the division — whipped Hawken, 42-32, to win the school’s first district championship in program history.

n The capper, though, was Saturday night. Lakeside’s Kyle Conel and Perry’s Billy Miller winning state championships in their respective divisions and weight classes — Conel in Division I at 195 pounds and Miller in Division II at 285 pounds — along with the other tremendous wrestlers from our coverage area who accomplished so much in even making it to Columbus as the best competitors in their sport in Ohio.

The gold-medal performances of Conel and Miller, piggybacking the district team championships by the Geneva and Pymatuning Valley girls, are giant exclamation points on what has become a spectacular collective of achievement for our coverage area.

Speaking for myself — and that’s what the wonderful forum which I am provided allows — I can’t express how much satisfaction I feel when someone, anyone, from our little neck of the woods accomplishes or achieves something.

Consider, we had what is considered the best D-III girls basketball team in the entire state, to this point, from southern Ashtabula County, the little, proud community of Andover and the rest of the PV district, steam to its 25th consecutive victory without a loss under the steady-as-she-goes leadership of Compan.

Consider, the Lakers are led by the three-headed monster of Geena Gabriel, Kelsea Brown and Megan Stech, Gabriel and Brown becoming Grand Players during the season and Stech putting up monster numbers against much bigger, stronger opponents in the paint. Who cannot be overlooked, though, are the other three girls in Compan’s 6-player rotation — Abby Hamilton, Rebecca Dillon, Katie Hall. Without them, along with the contributions of the rest of the Lakers, led by Taylor Lipinsky and Kennedee Drnek, every day in practice, PV would not be considered among the elite teams in its division and, most assuredly, would not be heading to practice after school today.

Consider, Barbo’s Geneva girls. With outside expectations were as low as any time in recent years going into the season, then tipping off with back-to-back losses, then enduring a four-game skid to fall to 6-6.. since then, with Barbo’s personality stamped all over the program, as usual, her Eagles have reeled off 11 consecutive victories to take a 17-6 record into the Sweet 16. Geneva is not a flashy, light-up-the-scoreboard kind of team. But, what the Eagles are, however, is tough as nails. Playing a mostly Division I schedule in a Division I league, the Premier Athletic Conference, Barbo’s bunch is built on what has become the pillars of her fine program — pressure, man-to-man defense, relentless work ethic and, most of all, never, ever giving an inch.

Consider, the backstory to Geneva’s season being the Eagles’ best player — super sophomore Lindsey Mayle and the serious illness her father, Tim (a terrific basketball mind, by the way), is courageously fighting — and seeing him be presented the game ball and holding it up after Geneva’s thumping of East Tech, it brings tears to these eyes even thinking about it.

Consider, Miller. Perry’s big guy, who is also a standout player for coach Matt Rosati’s football Pirates, but who could not play his senior season last fall because of injury. And coming into this wrestling season, being the defending champion, Miller had a huge bulls’-eye on his back. Going undefeated this winter en route to winning the state championship — again — is remarkable.

Which brings us to Conel. Coming from Ashtabula County, like most of us raised here, he hasn’t had much, if anything, given to him. In fact, Conel’s had to overcome much more than most.

Being undefeated going into the match for the state championship match last winter, only to come up short in that match, left Conel distraught. Given two choices — wallow in self-pity and stop working toward what he wanted or, get back at it, use that stinging defeat to push himself even harder and right that wrong.

Obviously, he chose the latter, fighting his way back to Columbus, again going undefeated and returning to the championship match.

This time, though, Conel would not be denied, bringing home a state championship to Lakeside, to Ashtabula County.

The ridiculous sideshow involving the controversy with his former and current coach, would have been more than enough to knock pretty much anyone off his game. And it would have been understandable if it had.

It didn’t, and that is one of Conel’s greatest accomplishments, from this corner.

Kyle Conel was the show... not whomever was coaching him, or used to coach him, as I would expect they would agree.

Back in 1983, coach Bill Schmidt’s St. John Heralds won the Class A state baseball championship.

Upon their triumphant return to Ashtabula, city and school officials organized a parade through downtown to pay tribute to their conquering heroes.

Soon as the weather breaks, if it ever does, here’s hoping the city of Ashtabula throws a parade for Kyle Conel... state freaking champion!

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at donmac@suite224.net.

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