Q&A with NCAA wrestling’s 14th-ranked Kyle Conel


Redshirt freshman Kyle Conel poses for a portrait in the M.A.C. Annex on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016.

Dan Armelli

Kent State wrestling’s 197-pound redshirt freshman Kyle Conel is in the midst of a breakout year. 

After spending last season redshirting and participating solely in open tournaments, he was able to earn a starting position for the Flashes at their wrestle-offs in late October. 

Fast-forward three months and the first-year starter is enjoying a 20-5 season with an undefeated record in dual matches, and is on an 11-match winning streak.

After defeating ranked opponents, winning the Lock Haven Classic title and helping Kent State to an 11-3 record (4-1 in the MAC), Conel has gone from unranked and unknown to one of the best 197-pounders in the country.

With the team off this week – returning to action Feb. 5 and 6 at Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa – the Stater spoke with Conel about his success, growth and “South Park.”

How long have you been wrestling, and did you participate in any other sports in high school?

I’ve wrestled since 7th grade and I played football ever since I was eight, up until my sophomore year of high school.

What made you choose wrestling and then eventually to go to Kent State?

It was the injuries. Mostly from football. I would get hurt a lot. I saw that I was progressing a lot faster in wrestling than I was in football. I saw that I had a better future here.

You used to struggle with some nervousness, and toward the end of matches you would pass out. What was that situation like and what have you done to overcome that?

I think it was mostly mental, probably 90 percent. I think I just had to come in with a better mindset and know that my preparation and the way I work are going to pay off. (The coaches) have also been focusing on the physical as well, making me do more breathing stuff and more conditioning. I go separately with (associate head coach Matt Hill), and we do extra workouts with more conditioning rather than strength. I have raw strength, but when it comes to muscle endurance, that’s where they work with me.

Speaking of your raw strength, you and head coach Jim Andrassy and Hill have said your athleticism is great. But you have said that you’re not much of a technician. Is that something that is important for you to improve this season?

As we get closer and closer to MACs (tournaments) and hopefully nationals, the better guys I am going to wrestle, I’m going to need better technique. I’m going to need more focus on that if I want to exert less energy while still scoring just as much as I usually do.

Last year, you redshirted and just competed in open tournaments. This year, with all of your success, what has been the biggest thing you have been able to learn this year compared to last year?

The biggest thing I’ve learned was that when it comes to high-level wrestling, it’s mostly mental. It’s about who wants it more. If I want it more, and I’ve been working just as hard as the other guy, I’m going to prevail.

Going into wrestle-offs this year, you had an opportunity to start at 197 pounds. Going into that match against sophomore Stephen Suglio, were there any nerves about what might happen with your future if you had lost?

Yeah, there was. Once I was done with it (and won), I just felt relief knowing that this is my spot, and Stephen is with the heavyweights, so I’m the only 197. I wasn’t really having in the back of my mind that somebody’s there to take my spot. I think that just gave me more mental freedom.

Last week you were ranked 14th in the nation in the first NCAA coaches’ poll of the season. Is that something you pay attention to or does it mean anything to you?

It means something, but I’m not focusing on that. At the end of the day, at the end of the year, you still have to beat guys. Just because I’m 14th, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to be 14th at the end of the year. I want to do better than that.

During some of your matches, there are usually chants of “Kyle” mimicking “South Park” character Eric Cartman’s voice. Have you noticed that during your matches, and what’s your reaction?

(Laughs). I hear it. It’s funny, but it’s actually pretty motivating knowing that a lot of people out there are cheering for me. It gets me hyped up.

After going 4-0 at the Virginia Duals, you were named MAC Wrestler of the Week and Male Scholar Athlete of the Week. From your success at that tournament and then receiving those awards, how did it feel going through that week?

Honestly, I felt pretty good, but I really wasn’t expecting it. It just felt like it was a part of it. I just keep rolling, and it’s just the process.

You said last week your goal has been to be an All-American this year. What do you have to do to stay hot and inch closer to that goal?

Just all-around put everything I can to focus on my wrestling and these last couple months. Obviously I have to pay attention to my schoolwork and everything. But just my all-around lifestyle, I have to make sure I’m eating right and getting in those extra workouts and keeping my weight down.