Four Kent State wrestlers head to Cleveland for NCAA Championships

Casey Sparkman prepares to grapple with an opponent. Sparkman is one of four Kent State wrestlers competing in the NCAA Championships. 

Kayla Proctor

Kyle Conel will make a return to the NCAA Championship after a year off. Casey Sparkman earned his spot with an allocation before the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Anthony Tutolo had an automatic bid. And Stephen Suglio will be wrestling in his first national tournament as a fifth-year senior year.

The four wrestlers will lead Kent State into the NCAA Championships at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland this weekend.

Conel wrestled at 197 pounds at the MAC Tournament and won true second, meaning he beat out the second-place competitor at the tournament for a spot at the championship. Conel finished the MAC season with a 4-2 MAC dual record and an overall record of 24-10. Conel will be wrestling Randall Diabe from Appalachian State in his first round.

This will be Conel’s second time competing at the NCAA Tournament; last year, he participated in the event at Madison Square Garden in New York City. 

“I have a little bit more experience this time,” Conel said. “Last tournament, I was two matches away from placing, so this year I’m going in just knowing I can do so much better.”

Conel said his second chance at placing as an All-American is nothing but exciting. Becoming an All-American means being an outstanding collegiate athlete, or as Conel talks about, winning his weight class at the championship. 

“I wasn’t crazy nervous, but I was definitely kind of shook up just being there for the first time,” Conel said. “So second time around, I’m pretty confident and excited. I shouldn’t be nervous about anything. I’m confident I could win an all-American and pretty much beat anyone.”

Assistant coach Matt Hill said he wasn’t surprised Conel wrestled and won a spot at the national tournament.

“I was pretty confident, even if he didn’t place in top three or top two, he would get a wild card (a bid after the MAC tournament), because he is a pretty good wrestler and had a good season, good enough to qualify,” Hill said.

Sparkman (157) was allocated a spot to the NCAA Championship before the MAC Tournament and took second in his weight class at the conference tournament. Sparkman finished his season with a record of 23-16, including 4-3 in MAC duals. Sparkman will be wrestling Lehigh’s Ian Brown in his first round.

Sparkman said his main goal is to do better than last year and head into the championship calm and collected.

“This year, I plan on winning more than one match,” Sparkman said. “I wouldn’t be going if I didn’t believe I could win.”

Hill also seems to believe in Sparkman’s confidence.

“It wasn’t surprising that Sparkman qualified because we saw the brackets and we knew he could win early and he had beaten some of his opponents before,” Hill said.

Tutolo (133) won his final match by a final score of 10-5 and stole a spot at the NCAA meet due to a medical forfeit. Tutolo finished this season with a record of 28-11 and a MAC dual record of 4-3. Tutolo will be wrestling North Carolina’s Zachary Sherman in his first round.

Tutolo competed last year in the NCAA tournament, and his new plan of attack is as simple as can be: Just wrestle what he knows.

“All the work is done,” Tutolo said. “All the preparation work has been done. That’s what the season is for. I’m just getting ready to go and looking forward to it. I feel on top, and a lot of us are peaking right now, which is a good thing.”

Tutolo believes he could potentially win in his weight class following a good season.

“I had a decent year, and I am just going to go out there and show them what I can,” Tutolo said. “Anything can happen. I personally believe in my abilities enough (to win).”

Hill said he was pretty confident that Tutolo would be heading to the championship after his season.

“We brought one spot in at 133,” Hill said. “So it wasn’t surprising that Tutolo is going to the championship. He is a good wrestler.”

Suglio (HVY) took third place in his weight class, also earning a spot to the NCAA Championships. Suglio finished his five-year wrestling career with a senior season record of 20-9 and a MAC dual record of 3-2. He had a better season than last year’s, ending that season at 20-19. Suglio will be wrestling Gage Hutchinson from Eastern Michigan in his first round.

This is Suglio’s first time wrestling at the NCAA Championships.

“I’m excited for this weekend,” Suglio said. “I mean, if nothing else, at least I get to go. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to wrestle this semester due to my class schedule, so getting the chance to go kind of came as a surprise.”

Suglio has no doubts in his mind that he could make it to the finals in the championship.

“Wrestling as a heavyweight, moving up from 197, I wrestle very different than what a lot of those guys have seen before,” Suglio said. “I have a lot of potential to upset those guys, and I believe the only reason I am not seeded is because I didn’t have enough heavyweight matches.”

Hill also doesn’t have any worries about Suglio being able to take on any heavyweight component.

“Suglio is a good wrestler as a heavyweight,” Hill said. “He had potential to beat everyone he wrestled so we felt pretty good going back to him that he would qualify.”

The NCAA Wrestling Championships start Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

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