Kent State wrestling pulls top-25 finish at NCAA Championships

Kent State wrestler Anthony Tutolo grapples with Arizona State’s Ali Naser during the NCAA Wrestling Championships at Quicken Loans Arena on March 15, 2018. 

Kayla Proctor

After suffering through one of the worst seasons in its history just a year ago, Kent State’s wrestling team finished 22nd in the country at the 2018 NCAA Championships.

Above Kyle Conel’s upset victories over Kollin Moore, the 197-pound weight class’s No. 1 seed, and overall third place, the Flashes’ finish was a major accomplishment.

The team went 2-12 last year, its worst record since 1971. It only finished fourth in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Its highest-rated wrestler this season was Casey Sparkman, who ranked 33rd in the final rankings before the tournament.

Most of Kent State’s points came from Conel’s victories, but 135-pounder Anthony Tutolo beat Arizona State’s Ali Naser, 5-2, in his first match on Thursday. He lost in the second round later that day, then again in the consolation bracket on Friday.

Tutolo earned an automatic bid to the NCAA meet after placing sixth at the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

Tutolo lost to Stevan Micic from Michigan by a major decision in the second round, then went into double overtime against West Virginia’s Matthew Schmitt in the consolation finals, but got pinned in the last four seconds of the match.

“It feels good to be in Cleveland and go out and win,” Tutolo said after his first match. “I know all of my friends and family are here, so that’s awesome.”

Tutolo’s father was in the stands. He’s one of the wrestlers’ top fans and has a reputation for being loud and enthusiastic at his son’s meets. Kent State coach Jim Andrassy even said they attempt to keep Tutolo’s dad as far in the stands as they can to keep him from distracting his son.

“I love my dad,” Tutolo said. “He kind of takes all of the pressure off of me because he freaks out so much and worries so much.”

Tutolo is a junior. Andrassy sees him as one of the team’s top wrestlers next season.

“Hopefully we can keep him focused and get back here next year,” Andrassy said.

Kent State heavyweight Stephen Suglio was outweighed by nearly every person he wrestled this year. Last year, he competed at 197 pounds (where Conel wrestled this season) and moved up to heavyweight this year. In many matches, his opponent weighed 30 or 40 pounds more than he did.

Because he used to wrestle at a lower weight, “I wrestle very differently than a lot of these guys have seen before,” Suglio said.

“I didn’t expect to make it this far (to the NCAA Championships),” Suglio said, “I ended up getting the starting spot for heavyweight midway through the season and stole a spot to qualify. I’m just glad I was able to make it this far in my career.”

Suglio lost his first match by a fallover against Penn State’s Nick Veils. He moved on to the next round when Eastern Michigan’s Gage Hutchinson forfeited because of a shoulder injury. Suglio had beaten Hutchinson during the regular season.

Suglio lost his final match to Purdue’s Shawn Streck, 12-3.

Suglio, a fifth-year senior, had worried he would miss his final year of wrestling because he had to student teach this semester. He often couldn’t make practice because of his schedule.

“He thought he was done with wrestling,” Andrassy said, “and I asked him if he wanted to do that. He said he didn’t have a choice. We worked with him to find ways to keep him, and it all worked out.”

Junior Casey Sparkman was wrestling in his second NCAA Championships. Last season, he went 1-2 in the tournament. This year, he got an automatic bid after placing second in the MAC.

Sparkman lost to Duke’s Mitch Finesilver in the first round by a major decision, 12-3. Sparkman lost his second match to Lehigh’s Ian Brown in a sudden victory.

“I understand that someone has to come in and go 0-2, but I believe he is too good to be going 0-2,” Andrassy said.

Kayla Proctor is a sports reporter. Contact her at [email protected].