KP’s Conniff in the Mix as one of the School’s Best Wrestlers

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
March, 2020
Article Body: 

Shawn Conniff is on the verge of becoming one of the best wrestlers in King Philip history.
Consider these achievements — the 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior captain last month was crowned the Division 2 Central Sectional champion for the third straight year; he’s the Warriors’ all-time leader in career victories (138); and he’s tops in career pins (108).
The 18-year-old Conniff added his third Sectional title to his list of achievements on Feb. 15 in Marlboro. What was dynamic was the way Conniff won all four matches — by pinning his opponents. He defeated, in order, Brody Flannery of Nashoba; Brandon Baran of Canton; Michael McEvoy of Algonquin; and Leo Zau of Milford.
“Shawn was dominant,’’ said KP coach John Adams. “Three straight Sectional titles are a rare accomplishment. It took a total of four minutes to get his four victories. Shawn is in an elite class because of his passion for the sport and his high wrestling IQ. His work ethic and his mental toughness make him one of the most talented wrestlers I’ve ever coached.’’
Conniff labels his three straight Sectional titles as “my top thrill,’’ and he called his four pins in a row “awesome.’’
“The competition was tough and all four opponents were technically sound and very strong,’’ Conniff said. “The four pins are a testament to my preparation. I trained hard all week leading up to the Sectional. It really was a great day.’’
Although there’s prestige and glory attached to three consecutive Sectional titles, Conniff is acutely aware that he hasn’t won a State or All-State championship. His last two State Tournament outings ended with a sixth-place finish as a sophomore and a runner-up effort as a junior.
“It was disappointing to lose in the State final last year,’’ Conniff said. “It was close. I lost, 10-8, in overtime against an opponent from Central Catholic. This season, however, I’m optimistic I can win the 195-pound class at the States and I’ve got a chance to win the All-State title. I was fourth at All-States as a sophomore and seventh as a junior.’’
Conniff’s only appearance in the New England Tournament ended with an eighth-place finish last year. “If I qualify, I can do better than eighth this time,’’ he said. “I’m feeling strong and my experience from competing last year will help. I won’t be as nervous and I’ll know what to expect.’’
Entering the Sectional, Conniff had a 134-24 career record and some of those triumphs played a role in the Warriors finishing the regular season with a 15-10 record and a fourth-place finish in the Sectional. “Our fourth-place finish was truly a team effort,’’ Conniff said.
Conniff’s aggressive style has been a key in dominating opponents. “I also rely on technique,’’ he emphasized. “That’s helped me to get all those pins. But, the key to an aggressive style is to remain calm, focused and poised.’’
Wrestling is a sport Conniff learned early. He first wrestled at age nine in the Wrentham youth league. He then turned to club and AAU wrestling and has competed at that level for seven years in places like Vermont, Virginia, New York and Florida.
Now, as his senior year on the mat heads for the finish line with the possibility of adding more accolades, Conniff still has pleasant memories from the past.
“My best match was at the New Englands in Providence last year,’’ he recalled. “I finished eighth but my opponent, Darby McLaughlin of Springfield, was seeded higher and favored to win. I used a variety of techniques and won, 6-3. I felt I had evolved into a top-notch wrestler after that match.’’
Conniff, a Hockomock All-Star in football and wrestling, will never forget his first Sectional crown, a triumph he also rates as a major thrill. “That was my first big win,’’ he noted. “I posted four victories and beat some quality wrestlers from North Attleboro and Nashoba. I was happy and emotional and I remember hugging my father after the final.’’
Now the top wrestler in career victories, Conniff is elated to be the leader in that category. “It means so much because so many great wrestlers came before me,’’ he emphasized. “It’s a testament to a lot of commitment and a great deal of off-season work. Lots of credit goes to my teammates and past and present coaches. I thank my KP coaches—John Adams and assistants Mike Poirier, Chris Hunter and Rich Chute—and Carmine Colace, my AAU coach.’’
Conniff also rates being a captain a “high honor.’’ He’s a leader by example but he also is communicative and supportive. “I like to see young wrestlers succeed and I try to be supportive and help them build confidence,’’ he noted.
Two KP teammates he’s admired for their help and contributions are Yousef Lotfi, a heavyweight, and Jackson Kelley (138-pound class). “Yousef is a junior who improved because of off-season work,’’ Conniff said. “He’s strong and aggressive. Jackson is quick, fast and strong.’’
Also a fan of Adams, Conniff admires his motivating style. “Coach Adams has been a big part of my success,’’ he said. “He’s worked with me a lot and he’s helped me to overcome some weaknesses.’’
A good student, Conniff hopes to wrestle in college. Three schools he’s mulling are Bridgewater State, Castleton State in Vermont and Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I.
A defensive end and fullback in football, Conniff started on defense for two seasons for coach Brian Lee. He saw action in the 6-0 Super Bowl loss to North Andover in 2018. “I enjoyed playing for coach Lee,’’ Conniff said. “He’s smart, a great leader and a terrific motivator.’’
Calling his parents (Shawn and Danielle) role models for their support and encouragement, Conniff has excelled in wrestling by relying on a philosophy that stresses three key components. “A determination to win and a desire to reach my potential are necessary for success and having fun also is important,’’ he emphasized. “And, I’ve learned some valuable life lessons — like being resilient, mentally tough, responsible and accountable. Overcoming adversity and time management are other good lessons.’’
Conniff has enjoyed his accomplishments but he also has enjoyed what wrestling has given him.
“It provided a way to stay in shape,’’ he noted. “I learned lots of technique, like how to use the cradle move, and I also understood that preparation was a big key to winning. And what makes wrestling attractive is the way it’s both an individual sport and a team sport. You score points and win as an individual but you’re also helping your team triumph when you win.’’
Adams has enjoyed coaching Conniff for a variety of reasons. “It’s been a privilege to coach Shawn,’’ Adams emphasized. “Because he’s talented, exciting to watch and he’s humble.’’
There may be arguments in years to come about who’s the best wrestler of all time at KP. Shawn Conniff’s name will be in the conversation. Not just because he’s set records. It’s because wrestling is a way of life for him.