Requena on the pitch after leukemia battle

J. Patrick Eaken

Woodmore senior Connor Requena did not make the All-Northern Buckeye Conference boys soccer team, but he is going to make the Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Team.

The All-Press honorable mention defenseman was diagnosed in grade school with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. For nearly four years, he lived with chemotherapy, oncology and all the other treatments that went with it.

Requena played soccer three years and will begin his fourth season of wrestling this winter. Wrestling coach Steve Ulinski could not be prouder of Requena’s work ethic.

“The growth and the maturity he has had since he was a freshman, and he was a chubby little kid back in the day, but he’s turned into a man right now,” Ulinski said. “No matter what he has gone through, any pain or discomfort or stuff like that, that kid wouldn’t say a word. He would not complain to me one bit. He is not looking for any shortcuts or anything like that. I guess when you have been through all that other stuff the rest of this stuff is pretty easy.”

In soccer this year, Woodmore finished 4-10-2, but by the end of the season the six-foot tall Requena was playing nearly full time on defense.

“Actually, he stepped up quite a bit this year,” second-year soccer coach Chris Tornow said. “He struggled a little bit at first and he was fighting for a starting position, but especially in the past month or so he really kind of stepped up to become more of a leader. He was really working hard to get his teammates their best chance. At the beginning of the season, he was even creating weightlifting programs to help his teammates get a little bit stronger. That was really good to see.”

Requena credits personal trainer Christian Weiland with helping him get back into shape so he can play soccer and wrestle again. On the wrestling mat as a junior, he had about as many wins as losses.

“We just focused on strength training and trying to get my legs strong and just all-around strong. I think my cousin went to school with him, so my dad knew who he was. My dad reached out to him and I started going to him,” Requena said.

Connor’s father is Woodmore assistant wrestling coach Marcos Requena, a 1989 Woodmore graduate. Marcos said he’s gradually seeing his son coming back to where he is competing full strength.

“So as a youth, he didn’t get to do any sports and had to just stay home, and finally this past winter he celebrated five years cancer free. He celebrated that while Woodmore had their ‘A’ Classic last year,” Marcos said. “He’s doing well. He had a rough time last year — he was having a hard time with his knees and he also needed a bunch of blood, but he’s overcoming that. It made it tough for him to make the varsity lineup when his knees were bothering him so much, but he still does pretty well. He just keeps going.

“He’s really been doing a lot to get stronger. He’s been working out with Chris Weiland between Woodville and Genoa for two years now and he’s been getting him really strong again. That was one of the biggest things coming out of his fight with leukemia because he was really weak. He has really put the muscle back on. Chris loves him to death,” Marcos continued.


Loves playing sports

“He just likes sports, but he does not like football. Most of his friends play soccer so that is why he plays soccer. With me also coaching wrestling, I’ve been coaching him ever since he was in kindergarten,” Marcos said.

“Since that 3½ to 4-year battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, he’s been working hard to get strong again and get back to where he wants to be, but COVID is killing a lot of it.”

Connor said, “I just like running around out there with my friends and having a good time.”

Ulinski credits Marcos for being the guy to get involved in his son’s life and make sure Connor gets back on the mat again.

“His dad used to be the biddy coach at Woodmore and ran the whole program. His dad was a wrestler in high school at Woodmore also, so when that happened you get drug into it, but I think his dad also saw the strength that something like wrestling can do for you,” Ulinski said. 

“We’ve got guys who aren’t even willing to get in front of a crowd, let alone be the only competitor (on the mat) representing the school and the team. I think as much as wrestling has given to Connor, Connor has given to wrestling. The things he brings to the team, like being a great teammate, working hard, and the perseverance I think go hand in hand supporting each other. A real good bunch of friends click in the wresting program and they are pretty tight. After meets, they hang out and play video games and stuff like that.”

Tornow says the soccer team has rallied behind Connor, too.

“They are very supportive of him. I had some players sacrifice some game time early in the season to get him out on the field more,” Tornow said.

“He’s one of those guys I never really have to worry about if he’s giving his whole effort or not because he always is. I know he’s always giving me what he can. He has improved so much and he’s such a selfless player. He’s never going to be that guy that you have to worry about — is he going to hang on the ball, or ruin something for the team? No, he is always going to make the right decision. He has gotten so much better throughout this season and last.”


Part of Wildcats’ turnaround

Tornow said Connor has been a big part of the team getting four wins after no wins a year ago.

“We have had some ups and downs, but we did a lot better this season than last. From a scoring standpoint, our top players are (senior midfielder) Zach Hunt, (freshman midfielder) Luke Morris, (junior forward) Gavin Duslak and (senior center forward) Josh Hazel — but Connor plays more of a defensive position. He has saved a few goals, but he’s obviously not on the scoring end. I would argue defense is even more important.

“Back in the defense we have Zane Willis, and he’s a junior who plays pretty much every minute of every game in the center defense. He and Connor work really well together in the backfield and that is why Connor has been getting so much more playing time, because of how well those two mesh. 

“In the sweeper position, we had a sophomore, Colin Mangus — he is outstanding and another sophomore on the right side is Brendan Hammer, who has really stepped up, too. I’m really, really proud of our defense. I think they were one of the strongest aspects of our team.

“I am proud of how far they’ve come. We went from not having a single win last year to nearly being smack in the middle in the conference this year.”

Marcos says Connor is nearly a 4.0 student, but his future plans are up in the air.

“He’s really undecided right now. He’s been talking about engineering, and then he talks about welding like his older brother. But he’s a really smart kid," Marcos said.



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