Hard work paying dividends for Keso
Maine East wrestler Nenif Keso (facing camera) works with teammate Pablo Lopez during practice on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, at the school in Park Ridge. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 28, 2013 6:26AM
PARK RIDGE — Nenif Keso’s transformation from .500 wrestler to one of Maine East’s best grapplers occurred this offseason when the senior collected and refined several vital tools.
At the forefront of that transformation has been hard work, improved defense and increased concentration in close matches, according to Maine East coach Emiliano Hernandez.
“Last year, a lot of his matches he would be winning going into the third period and the final minute and a mistake would happen; a mistake where it was almost like, ‘I can’t lose, I can’t lose’ and it would happen,” Hernandez said. “Now, it just seems like he knows that he can handle that situation, where he’s going to protect himself and not make the mistakes that are going to cost him the match.”
The improvements Keso made from his junior to senior seasons were on display against Hersey’s Mike Conklin in the 138-pounder’s first match of the season. Keso and Conklin wrestled to a 1-1 tie through three periods but Keso said he felt he had the advantage in overtime because of his offseason strength and conditioning program and how it helped alter his mentality.
“When you run 10 laps and you’re like, ‘I’m tired, I want to stop,’ I’ll tell myself, ‘Keep pushing,’ ” said Keso, a Des Plaines resident. “Eventually you get tougher. I had a win in overtime and (Conklin) was tired and I was feeling fresh because I keep pushing myself. ... I’m mentally tougher (this year). I fight to the end more.
“I remember, sophomore year, I’d see this guy warming up on the mat before the match and I’d be like, ‘Oh, this guy looks kind of tough.’ I’d start doubting myself. This year, I don’t care who it is. I’ll go and give it 100 percent.”
The shift in Keso’s mentality has been accompanied by greater experience and expertise executing moves he was taught in previous years at Maine East.
The refining of Keso’s technique began with a nine-week period at Matt’s Militia, which is a club run by veteran Notre Dame coach Augie Genovesi. The team practiced both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling during its three practices each week, and its wrestlers would compete in Greco-Roman tournaments on Fridays and freestyle tournaments on Saturdays.
Keso regularly wrestled in both tournaments and said he has become better at switching in and out of his underhooks by wrestling the Greco-Roman style.
“Me and him, we’ve been working out all spring and summer,” said Maine East senior Pablo Lopez, Keso’s training partner. “It’s turned out really good for him.”
Keso also went to a four-day wrestling camp at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater over the summer. The camp’s instructors included state champions and two-time Olympian Jim Gruenwald. Among the things Gruenwald taught the camp’s attendees were different ways to use front headlocks, which Keso has added to his repertoire this season.
Looking ahead, Keso has three primary goals he’d like to accomplish. He said he wants to be named all-conference, qualify for sectionals and make it to state. At the Wisconsin-Whitewater camp, Keso spoke with some of the camp’s state qualifiers to get advice about what it takes to accomplish those goals.
“I met a lot of state champions and state qualifiers,” Keso said. “I got to talk to them and see what that’s like, how to prepare and how to become a state qualifier. I took all of that with me and I’m using it now.”