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Connellsville's Kenney wants gold in final trip to PIAA tournament

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
After winning gold medals for his performance at the WPIAL/PIAA Class AAA Southwest Regional Tournament, Connellsville senior wrestler Ethan Kenney is looking for another top-notch effort when he competes in the PIAA Class AAA championships Thursday through Saturday at Giant Center in Hershey. Evan R. Sanders I Daily Courier

When Connellsville senior wrestler Ethan Kenney looks back at his first three trips to the PIAA Class AAA individual championships, he can't help but feel that he could have done a little more.

As a freshman, Kenney won a WPIAL championship and earned a seventh-place medal at 103 pounds in the state tournament. He qualified for states as a sophomore but didn't medal in the 119-pound bracket. As a junior, Kenney again took home a seventh-place medal at states, this time at 132 pounds.

“My freshman year, I could have definitely been in the top three,” Kenney explained. “My sophomore year was a tough year, and even if I wrestled my best, I would have been lucky to get on the podium. Last year, I'd say I should have been in the top three or four.”

Kenney acknowledged that small mistakes in key matches have cost him higher positions on the medal stand. He's hoping that lessons learned the previous three years will pay off in his fourth and final trip to Giant Center in Hershey.

“It kind of helps me because there are mistakes I know I can't make,” Kenney said. “I have to wrestle nearly perfect.”

Kenney may not have been perfect, but he was undefeated in last week's WPIAL/PIAA Southwest Regional championships. In that tournament, Kenney rattled off four straight wins, including a 14-12 championship victory over top-seeded Tyler Smith of Franklin Regional.

Kenney (30-6) will open the state tournament with a preliminary-round bout at 4 p.m. Thursday against Garden Spot senior Nick Cook. Cook (35-6) is the fourth seed from the Southcentral Region.

With his second WPIAL/Southwest Regional championship under his belt, Kenney will be riding positive momentum heading into states. But Kenney knows that winning last week won't mean much this week if he doesn't come out with a strong effort right off the bat.

“In the past, I've looked too far into the bracket,” Kenney acknowledged. “This year, I just want to win my first match and go from there. I don't want to worry about things I can't control. I think of it as a clean slate. I try not to live in the past. Every week is a new goal and a new job to be done.”

The only thing Kenney can control is his own performance on the mat. And lately, those performances have been strong.

“This is as good as I've seen him look at this point in the season,” Connellsville coach Tommy Dolde said. “I think getting on a roll is so important. Things start clicking, and you become more confident and it increases with each match.”

One of the things Kenney would like to do is stay aggressive for the entire six minutes in each of his bouts. On several occasions, Kenney has built an early lead only to see his opponent close the gap in the third period.

“It's something we've talked about with him,” Dolde said. “He doesn't do it all the time, and it's a bad reputation that isn't deserved. It's not that he shuts down. The competition at this level is just so good. We're focusing on scoring in the third period rather than getting scored upon.”

For Kenney, performances from this season as well as previous seasons won't be his focus. But they will serve as motivation as he attempts to reach his goal of winning a state title.

“There is more pressure because this is my last chance,” Kenney said. “I've been there three times, and I know what it's like. I just have to go out and wrestle.”

Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at jblack@tribweb.com.

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