Chasing the podium

Connor Keating has been training vigorously for the past eight weeks, both on the mat and in the weight room for another chance to earn All-American honors on the big stage.

“I do eight training sessions per week, with some days being two-a-days, and both in the weight room and on the wrestling mat,” said Keating, the 33-year-old assistant wrestling coach for the Cadets.

Keating’s efforts are a reminder that coaches at Norwich have not just a deep level of knowledge in their sport but can also be, like their athletes, still competitors as well.

Keating will be competing in the U.S. Open in freestyle wrestling from April 24-27 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

For many wrestlers of all ages, weights, and experience, the U.S. Open is the cream of the crop for freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling in America.

The U.S. Open consists of men’s and women’s Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling for a variety of age divisions, but only the senior division (ages 21 and up) brings with it the possibility of competing for Team USA on the international level.

Other categories for competition are the senior women’s freestyle, master’s nationals, Greco-Roman world team trials, junior national freestyle nationals, and the junior Greco-Roman world team trials.

Keating will be competing in both the senior division and the masters division in freestyle wrestling.

“In the senior freestyle, I will be competing at 74 KG (163 lbs.) and in the masters freestyle I will be competing at 76 KG (167 lbs.),” Keating said. “This isn’t too far off from my natural bodyweight. I am naturally 170 lbs. and when I am working out eight times a week training like crazy, some weight comes off, so I am really not cutting any weight for this weight class.”

“At the Open it is not uncommon to see a NCAA D1 Champion not even place top eight. The competition in the seniors is that good,” said Keating. “At the same time though, you can see guys who didn’t do anything of relevance in the collegiate spotlight go and do wonders at the U.S. Open, and in the world circuit.”

“I have competed against national champions, and former world team members before, and part of the beauty of the sport is that anything can happen. I have beat people who have done much more than me on paper, and I’ve lost to others,” Keating explained.

The impact that Keating’s competitive skills and experience have had on the team is noticeable. “It’s great to see him compete because it shows him improving, which lets him improve the team as wrestlers,” said Ronnie Caudill, a senior from Dayton, Ohio. “Coach K competing and training for the Open usually makes him the toughest guy in the room to train against in season,” he continued.

Keating is no stranger to this tournament, having competed in it many times before.

“I’ve competed in the U.S. Open every year since 2014, and feel as though I grow as a wrestler and as a coach every time I go. Wrestling coach Connor Keating

“I am a student of the sport when I am in training for it, or competing out there,” Keating said.

Freshman Joseph Castellino of Natick, Mass., said, “It’s a great representation for not only the school, but for New England wrestling as a whole.”

Keating’s competitive spirit and love of high-level competition is nothing new.

Keating began wrestling as a kid and succeeded in high school at nearby Harwood Union High School, where he was a three-time state finalist, and appeared in the finals of every tournament he competed in during his sophomore, junior, and senior year of high school.

Once at Norwich, Keating was a standout wrestler, and a 2008-09 team captain. “I was a two-time All-New England wrestler, I was an Academic All-American, and I was a finalist in the All-Academies tournament,” Keating elaborated.

As Keating was no stranger to the mat, the relatively easy transition to a higher level of wrestling was unsurprising.

“In 2013, I took first in the Georgi Kalchev International Freestyle tournament in Bulgaria; in 2017 I took second in the master’s division of the U.S. Open; and in 2018, I took third in the master’s division, among winning a handful of other random freestyle tournaments around the world. But my best performance in the U.S. Open came in 2014 when I earned an eighth-place finish and All-American honors,” Keating said.

Going back to the U.S. Open, Keating’s goals remain the same as years past, in that he strives to “All-American in the seniors, and win the masters,” he stated.

Among the goals specific to the U.S. Open, Keating said he also wants to “develop my wrestling to the peak I can achieve, and in turn make me a better wrestler, coach, and person.”

“It’s great to see Coach K is still chasing the dream, because it makes it easier for him to understand us when we are trying to achieve our goals in season,” said Castellino.

“I feel like when I’m training to compete, as opposed to being a coach, I get to be a little selfish, and I focus on my own training, and my own nutrition,” Keating continued, “but at the same time, I can learn from everybody around me, whether it is Coach Whitney helping me train in the room, or it is in past big tournaments I’ve competed in, I get to be a student of the sport again which I like,” Keating continued.

“Not only is it good for Connor, but it’s a unique thing to have a coach who is still competing. It gives us the opportunity to keep learning as a team and not get too set in our ways, as happens with other teams,” said Alex Whitney, Norwich’s head wrestling coach.

Keating’s training for the Open started in mid-February. “I normally start between eight to 12 weeks out. Eight is on the low end and I feel a little under-prepared, and 12 is on the high end and I feel burnt out going before I even get to compete,” Keating said.

“Now I am on a ten-week preparation and midway through that. In the start of my prep I am doing a lot of strength and conditioning, getting into the right shape,” Keating said. “Once I’m in optimal shape the strength and conditioning take a little bit of a back seat and I am on the mat for the majority of my training sessions.”

Keating is backed by a support network that includes Coach Whitney, as well as fellow coach Erin Clodgo, who was on the U.S. national team last year and is well-known in the international wrestling circuit. Also backing Keating is his wife Kaitlyn, and his father.

“Alex is my training partner, and I guess coach if you will, when I am training. He is the one helping me, and serving as my main drill partner,” said Keating. “But when I get out to Vegas it is different. I have a network in a way, of guys I work out with when I get to Vegas for the Open.”

“Erin has also been instrumental in my training, from technique, to different approaches to going into competition, she is awesome. She has “been there, and done that” which is just great to have in someone who is helping you,” Keating added.

Whitney does not follow Keating to coach him in the Open. That spot is reserved for his father, and his wife.

“I like to have Kaitlyn, and my father in my corner when I compete. Last year I had one of my former wrestlers, Robbie Zyko (NU ‘14), out there as well, and he coached one of my matches actually,” Keating said.

All of this training will be leading to the culminating event for Keating on April 24-27 in Las Vegas, NV. which you can follow on www.flowrestling.com.

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