Venice senior Tyler Conway remembers what it was like when he started wrestling for the Indians as a freshman over three years ago.

Standing at about 5-foot-1 and weighing about 95 pounds, Conway had to wrestle kids much bigger than him just to compete in the lowest weight class allowed — 106 pounds.

“Freshman year, it was scary walking into the match and looking at those kids who are so much bigger than you,” Conway said. “But I think that prepared me for the years to come. Now I’m one of the bigger kids in my weight class. It pushed me to work harder and I’ve hit the gym a lot over the summer.”

Now, Conway has grown into his 5-foot-10, 138 pound frame and has become one of the top wrestlers for Venice — finishing 28-7 over the duals season with 15 pins. For Conway, it’s not hard to look back and compare himself to the current crop of Indians wrestlers. Venice has nine experienced wrestlers this year, and about 25 underclassmen who are essentially brand new to the sport.

The lack of knowledge and size among Venice wrestlers put the team in a tough position for the duals season, often forcing the Indians to forfeit several weight categories.

However, even though Venice has often had to wrestle without a full complement of athletes, the Indians finished the duals season at 11-9 with some promising records from several top wrestlers.

“I think the team has done really well this year,” Indians wrestler Lauren Stone said. “We have a lot of promise. There’s a lot of young kids who are coming in to wrestle. I think for the young age of our team, we’ve been performing really well.”

Stone, a junior, won the girls state championship for the 106-pound weight class in 2018 and has an 8-1 record so far this year with six pins.

According to Venice head coach Pat Ryan, she’s looking like the favorite to go back and win again.

Along with Stone, there is her brother, Jack Stone (28-3), Shane Conway (26-7), Chris Wozniak (25-4), Sam Exler (19-9), Gage Tippman (15-7), Brandon Kotti (10-4) and Jack Marble (20-3).

With duals season officially over, these wrestlers are finally getting a chance to prove their abilities at the individual level.

However, Venice’s focus on its youthful team won’t be lost as the wrestling season shifts to team tournaments rather than dual meets.

“Last year we had very, very few numbers,” Ryan said of having 19 kids last year compared to 35 this year. “This year we’ve really done a good job of getting kids in the halls and getting them out here. The kids have done a great job of talking it up and getting their friends out.”

“It’s exciting. We’re doing all the right things to build a program.”

Freshmen wrestlers like Max Bennet, Dalton Peacock and Jack Stone have veteran wrestlers like Lauren Stone excited about what’s to come.

The most important stepping stone for Venice will be to not only get its new crop of about 25 wrestlers in shape and learn proper technique, but also to bulk up their weight to fill out the requisite weight classes to compete.

If they need any guidance along the way, they just have to look to seniors such as Conway — who has morphed from an undersized freshman to a regional contender in back-to-back seasons.

And after finishing one spot out of qualifying for the state tournament two years in a row, Conway is looking to take advantage of his added size and strength this year to finally break through regionals and set an example for the up-and-coming Indians.

First, he will have to get through districts, at Venice High School on Feb. 23, and regionals on March 1.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Conway said of his final run at making the state tournament. “I want to finally break the streak and make it to states.”

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