Conel finishes unlikely journey in third place at NCAA Championships

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Kent State wrestler Kyle Conel celebrates after defeating No. 1 seed Kollin Moore of Ohio State for the second time in as many days to secure third place at the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on March 17, 2018. 

Kayla Proctor

Kyle Conel wanted to prove he couldn’t be stopped, and he did just that to the 19,000 attendees that joined him Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena for the third and final day of the NCAA Wrestling Championships.

Conel started both of the last two days with a pin and ended Saturday with the third-place title in the 197-pound weight class.

Conel took on Northern Iowa’s Jacob Holschlag for his first match of the day. Conel won by fall (2:48) to secure his spot in the third-place match.

“Conel just squeezed him and ended it,” Kent State coach Jim Andrassy said about Conel’s first match. “(Holschlag) is a guy that you want them to scramble with, and a big guy like Conel can just squeeze you and end it.”

Conel ended his first match just the way he started his first one yesterday, pinning his opponent in the first period.

“I’m really happy it turned out the way it did because last night was a little tough, and this gets me going, and I’m very happy to be here, and the crowd has been amazing,” Conel said about his first match. “It’s been an awesome experience, and I feel great.”

Conel has been making bigger moves this weekend than he did throughout his entire year.

“That’s almost half as many pins as I have had all year, and it feels pretty good,” Conel said. “This week is more ranked wins than I’ve had all season.”

Conel then took on Kollin Moore, the No. 1 seed from Ohio State, for the first time since pinning Moore at one minute and 30 seconds in Friday’s quarterfinals match. Conel ended his second match with a final decision of 5-3, beating the No. 1 seed twice and earning the third-place title and a spot as an all-American in the 197-pound weight class.

Dustin Kilgore and Ian Miller are the only other Kent State wrestlers to finish higher in the NCAA Championships in the last 33 years.

It’s been an unlikely journey for Conel, who sat out from wrestling for the entirety of last season and entered this weekend’s tournament unseeded.

“He is unseeded, and this has never happened with our coaching staff,” Andrassy said. “To take third (place), on paper, there is only one person better, and that’s Dustin Kilgore. He is right there with him. He has one more year, and we are going to get him that year back that he lost from last year. He said he wants to get back, and this is his drive. This is special for Kyle and our program, and we can all go behind it.”

When asked where all this winning was during his regular season, Conel just laughed.

“In my regular season, I had some ups and downs,” Conel said. “I didn’t wrestle with a different mentality. I told everyone no matter who I lose to, I could beat them and beat anyone, and I carried this throughout the whole year. This weekend has paid out, and this is the best time of all times.”

Conel will end Saturday night standing on a podium with a third-place medal hanging from his neck.

“I met my goal, and I did a lot better than at times I thought I could,” Conel said. “I was proving the naysayers wrong.”  

Kayla Proctor is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected]