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Evan Kenealy looks back on his sophomore season and laughs.
It was his first year wrestling after joining the team so his older brother, Garrett, wouldn’t quit playing football for the Meade County Green Wave.
The only thing Kenealy seems to remember about 2011 is that it was a very frustrating year. In his mind, it wasn’t a very successful season because he was so aggravated.
“Going out there and getting my butt kicked, it really frustrated me,” he said. “I was getting my butt kicked, but at the same time I was learning. A lot of stuff did come natural, but getting my butt kicked showed me a lot about wrestling that I never knew – like you can’t force stuff or rush people and be under control when you’re on the mat.”
Frustration turned to anger for Kenealy, who admitted he sometimes let his emotions get the best of him that season.
“Every time in practice when I was getting beat, I’d get mad,” Kenealy said. “Coach Bob (Davis) told me, ‘If you get mad when you wrestle, you do stupid stuff.’ He told me I just had to keep calm and stay under control when I’m on the mat.”
His frustration boiled over last season in the KHSAA State Wrestling Tournament. In the first round of the 182-pound bracket, Kenealy was disqualified after he said he bit his opponent – Jeffersontown graduate Angel Gonzalez.
Kenealy said he’s learned to control his aggression and not let it get the best of him.
“I’ve learned you cannot wrestle mad,” he said. “I regret doing that every day. When I start getting beat, I know just to stay calm and stick to the basics: get to your base, get free and get a takedown. If I’m trying to hit a move and I can’t, I know to stay calm and go to something else.”
Now a senior, Kenealy is having his best season for No. 19 Meade County.
He has climbed the rankings at 182 pounds, rising to No. 8 in the latest poll released by kentuckywrestling.com.
“Being ranked so highly shows that working hard does pay off,” Kenealy said. “It’s a pretty nice accomplishment being ranked eighth in the state. There are a lot of good wrestlers out there. Some people have been wrestling a whole lot longer than I have, and that shows I have improved a lot.”
Davis said Kenealy has become a student of the sport, which has led him to be successful.
“He’s gone to a lot of camps and he’s been a student of the game,” Davis said. “You have to be a student because it’s a learning sport. A lot of people think it’s a dumb-man, strong-man sport, just pick somebody up and throw them. But you’ve got to learn what you’re doing out there and learn when to do it and know how to counter several things, and he’s done well with that.
“He’s come a long way from where he was,” he added. “He’s been very important to us. He can teach things to people that I’m trying to get across. He’s very intelligent in school, and that really helps him. He gets out there and he teaches them what to do and when to do it. He also helps improve their form and technique, and that’s going to be missed next year.”
Since learning to better control his emotions, Davis feels Kenealy has evolved into more of a leader for the Green Wave.
“He has his moments, but he is a good leader,” Davis said. “He has strengths and weaknesses, but don’t all leaders? I don’t think we’ve ever had a confrontation and I’m very proud of that. He doesn’t do a lot wrong and he’s grown up and matured into being a good leader.
“Evan has turned himself into a wrestler,” he added. “He’s not the best athlete, but he’s definitely worked hard at it. He works hard at it every day and he doesn’t have to worry about weight. He takes care of himself, he eats healthy and he does what he’s supposed to do.”
And after last season, Kenealy is driven to end his career on a high note by placing higher than Garrett did at State. Garrett finished seventh last season.
“My goal is to place higher than him at State,” Kenealy said. “I want to rub it in his face a little bit. I wish I would have started earlier. I should’ve placed last year. If I would have started sooner, I would have improved a lot more over the last couple of years.”
Josh Claywell can be reached at (270) 505-1752 or email@example.com.