George Keenan accepted a Geneva wrestling T-shirt as a freshman, but that was just the start.
He later embraced the role of team manager, and as a sophomore began joining in practices for an hour each afternoon.
On Saturday, Keenan competed in his first live match for the Vikings, challenging Carmel’s Cristian Migliarese into the third period before Migliarese, a fellow special-needs athlete, registered a pin in the Corsairs’ tournament.
“George lost the match,” said his father, Terry, “but you couldn’t believe the smile on the kid’s face just the fact he got to be out there.”
A junior, Keenan wrestles at 113 pounds, bulking up from 106 last season. He has cerebral palsy as a result of an injury but remains an active sportsman. Biking is his biggest passion; Keenan is well-known among the regulars on various Fox Valley trails, logging up to three hours a day during the summer to keep in shape.
In a way, mandatory fitness steered him to wrestling. Vikings coach Tom Chernich’s planning or lunch periods coincided with Keenan’s freshman year PE class, when Chernich often helped Keenan with his gym locker. Their dialogue and friendship soon evolved, growing in tandem with Keenan’s role with the Vikings.
“I think he’s an inspiration to the whole team,” Chernich said. “Here’s a kid who’s working and basically practices the whole time but doesn’t get that many opportunities to compete. It’s got to be one of the highlights of his high school career, whether it’s the classroom or anything else.”
Keenan had Vikings assistant Rob Showalter for a math class as a freshman, as well, and both have been influential.
“George has got this attitude that he can do anything,” Terry Keenan said, “and it’s nice that Tom and Rob have included him in these things.”
While Keenan took a handful of forfeit victories for Geneva as a sophomore, he’s still eager to score his first win on the mat. With Carmel scheduled to visit Geneva later this season, a rematch with the seasoned Migliarese could be in the cards.
Terry Keenan spoke with Migliarese’s father, Frank, and Carmel coach Bob Kuykendall after the match. Keenan filmed the bout and posted it YouTube before also internalizing Kuykendall’s words: “That’s what it is all about.”
Wicinski, MSU set for NCAAs: Geneva product Lauren Wicinski, a junior outside hitter for the Michigan State women’s volleyball team, leads the Spartans in kills, points and aces entering today’s NCAA Tournament first-round match against San Diego at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
An All-Big Ten selection earlier this week, Wicinski paced MSU with 514 kills, 621 points and a program-record 77 aces in 32 matches. In her first season after transferring from Northern Illinois, Wicinski ranked second in the Big Ten and 21st in the NCAA with 5.31 kills a set.
St. Francis graduate Kristen Kelsay, a sophomore setter, also starts for the Spartans. Kelsay dished double-digit assists in each match to average 7.03 assists a game.
A handful of other Chronicle-area athletes also are part of tournament-bound teams.
Former Kaneland standout Katy Dudzinski was set to start at right-side hitter for Wichita State, but broke her right foot in a non-volleyball accident during the summer and redshirted this season. The Shockers play Arkansas in the first round today, their sixth straight NCAA appearance, and Dudzinski traveled with the team.
Tennessee – which faced Michigan in a first-round match Thursday – features St. Francis graduate Kelsey Robinson, a junior outside hitter whose 445 kills led the team entering the tournament.
Climbing the ladder: A pair of former Kane County Cougars managers ascended another rung of the parent Oakland A’s system on Wednesday.
Oakland announced the promotion of 2009 Cougars skipper Steve Scarsone from Double-A Midland (Texas) to Triple-A Sacramento (Calif.) beginning next season. Aaron Nieckula, the winningest manager in Kane County history, fills the void in Midland after spending 2011-12 guiding Burlington (Iowa) of the Midwest League.
Nieckula, still called “Nuke” by Cougars fans and employees during the Bees’ visits to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, managed the Cougars from 2006-08 and in 2010 before Kane County switched affiliation from Oakland. He went 285-269 in that span, topping Lynn Jones by 10 victories.
Nieckula still kept his Yorkville home while managing Burlington, and might also have been sitting pretty had Oakland kept him in Low-A in 2013, as the A’s switched their Midwest League affiliate to Beloit (Wis.).
The Cougars, a Kansas City Royals farmhand the past two seasons, now are aligned with the Cubs, who have not yet announced their upcoming minor league field staff.
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.