Trio prove they're cut above More challenges: Carroll County's three unbeaten wrestling champs -- Chenoweth, Conaway and Kiler -- take their perfect records into the state regional tournament today.

February 23, 1996|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Tommy Kiler grew up in a wrestling family. He started when he was 4 or 5 and remembers going to practice and not paying much attention at first.

Mike Chenoweth was already playing basketball when he first gave wrestling a try in middle school. He liked basketball a lot more back then.

Charlie Conaway first hit the mat at 9, wrestling for a Winfield Warriors "B" team. He took his lumps in that first year, taking a year off from the sport after that.

And they all were there last Saturday, taking their turns atop the podium at South Carroll High, accepting their medals for winning county titles.

For Kiler, it was nothing new, his fourth straight county title for North Carroll. Chenoweth confessed of being a little nervous before winning his third crown, saying afterward it was because this was the one he was expected to win. Conaway, his teammate at South Carroll, simply savored his first title.

Ten other very good wrestlers stepped up to the podium that night, but Kiler, Chenoweth and now Conaway were clearly a cut above.

The three are a combined 68-0 this season and you can count the number of back points they've given up this season on one hand.

Trying to find out what separates those guys from the rest is difficult, mainly because all three are soft-spoken and would much rather do their talking on the mat.

"I've really just taken it one match and one year at a time and I'm not going to look at it as a whole until it's all over," Kiler said.

With the Class 3A-4A regionals starting today and the states next week, all say there's still plenty of work to do.

Chenoweth (24-0 and going after his third state crown) is ranked first at 171 pounds by the Maryland State Wrestling Association. Kiler, who won his first state title last season and is 20-0 this season, is ranked second at 140 behind Tyrone Neal, a two-time defending state champ from Southern-AA. Conaway (24-0) is second in the state at 160, behind only Mount St. Joseph's two-time private schools champ Tyran Dungee.

All three have similarities in their backgrounds, but have taken different paths to the top. All have extensive experience in the junior leagues and all have fathers who have figured prominently their success.

"My dad got me into wrestling in the seventh grade. I was playing basketball and wrestling at the same time and kind of liked basketball better," Chenoweth said.

"The next year, I just wrestled. Those first two years I didn't do too well, I probably won just six matches in those two years."

The turning point for Chenoweth came in his freshman year when he opted to stay in the junior leagues with the Winfield Warriors instead of wrestling for South Carroll High.

"I hadn't really done all that well that year, maybe winning two-thirds of my matches. And then I won a regional title and haven't lost much since," he said.

"It gave me a lot of confidence before I got to high school and then I won my first couple of matches [at South Carroll] pretty easily and went from there."

Chenoweth, an All-Metro defensive end last fall in football, has gone on to dominate. He finished 31-1 that sophomore year with a school-record 27 pins. By his junior year, he already had the South Carroll mark for career pins.

"I mostly wrestle because it makes my parents proud and if it makes them feel proud, I can feel proud," he said.

Cavaliers coach Pete Olson said he's probably seen more improvement from Chenoweth this season than years past.

"This year, he has truly taken himself another step higher," Olson said.

"Technically, he's so much more efficient. Before he would make a mistake, but could get out of it with his athletic ability. The bottom line is he's developed as a wrestler, not just a pinner. He's got more than just the fastball. He can hurt you with a slider, a curve or anything else that can be thrown."

Ken Kiler, Tom's father, built a solid junior league program in Manchester that has produced a number of state champs at North Carroll. One is Tom, who has taken work ethic and consistency to a higher level. In his 20 wins this season, 14 have been pins.

"Dad had the program started before I was born and I was going to wrestling practice before I realized it. I was never forced into it, but it was always there for me," Tom said.

"I remember when I first started [former North Carroll teammate] Doug Dell and I wouldn't pay much attention in practice and then as time went on I became more and more interested. It all started coming together in sixth or seventh grade. Wrestling has helped shape me into the person I am."

Conaway, who also spent his freshman year with the Warriors, has made the most dramatic improvements through his high school career.

Always a superb technical wrestler, he worked in the off-season to improve his strength and endurance. His biggest challenge came in last year's county championship when he opted to go up against state champ Zac Yinger of Francis Scott Key.

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