Wrestling showcases depth as postseason approaches

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Redshirt freshman Kyle Conel wrestles Jackson Lewis of CMU in the MACC on Sunday Feb. 14. Conel won 6-3. Kent beat CMU 18-17.

Dan Armelli

With the upcoming Mid-American Conference Tournament looming in March, the Kent State wrestling team is coming off arguably its most important contests of the year.

Even with two of the current three NCAA qualifiers from last year sidelined Sunday due to injury, Kent State pulled off a second-place finish in the Mid-American Conference regular season, capping off the season with a 7-1 conference record and 15-3 overall. 

The team closed its regular season schedule with wins on Sunday against MAC rival No. 20 Central Michigan and Edinboro.

Last year’s two NCAA qualifiers—fifth-year senior Ian Miller who’s ranked third in the country in his 157 weight class and senior 133-pounder No. 8 Mack McGuire—were out with varying injuries and ailments. 

Fifth-year senior, 149-pounder, No. 19 Mike DePalma was the lone NCAA qualifier to participate in Sunday’s matches. He lost in the Central Michigan dual, but bounced back with a 5-1 win against Edinboro’s No. 10 Patricio Lugo.

“Getting that first match out of the way and then having more time to recover for the second one was a good preparation for something like MACs and nationals,” DePalma said. “I felt a lot better going into that second match, way better that the first one.”

Each win in the duals for Kent State was important after one-point and three-point victories, respectively. 

With Kent State wrestling 20 matches in the tri-meet, there were many subplots of the event that were important to Sunday’s results that could also impact the MAC Tournament. 

Redshirt freshman, 157-pounder Casey Sparkman, who had replaced Miller earlier in the season against Missouri with a win, did so again with an upset over Central Michigan’s No. 11 Luke Smith. 

“I’m always trying to be ready to wrestle,” Sparkman said. “I expect that every once in a while I’m going to get thrown out there and my name’s going to get called, even if Ian and Mack are in. I just have to wrestle the same way every time.”

To fill in for McGuire, head coach Jim Andrassy utilized both of his 125-pounders: fifth-year senior Del Vinas and sophomore Drew Dickson. Andrassy said he had heard Central Michigan might forfeit at 125 because of an injury. 

“As soon as they forfeited, we sent Dixon out to get the forfeit and we moved Del up,” Andrassy said. “I literally asked Del if he wanted to wrestle 133 or 125. I kind of gave him the option, being a fifth-year senior.”

Vinas ended up losing that match to the Chippewas’ No. 26 Corey Keener. Kent State bumped Dickson up to 133 against Edinboro. 

“Dickson needs shoulder surgery,” Andrassy said. “He was scheduled for last week. We canceled it as soon as Mack got hurt.”

Dickson ended up winning 5-2 with riding time, which tied it up for the last match of the evening at 141 pounds. 

Redshirt freshman Anthony Tutolo took the mat with one match on the day under his belt. He lost his first match to Central Michigan’s No. 16 Zach Horan. A controversial takedown-to-reversal call in the final minute of the third period that was reviewed and upheld led to a scramble and takedown for Horan. 

Against Edinboro, Tutolo was able to hold off last-second takedown attempts to win 6-5 with riding time, giving the Flashes an 18-15 win.

Two performances that shouldn’t be overlooked were those by fifth-year senior, 165-pounder No. 29 Tyler Buckwalter and redshirt freshman, 197-pounder No. 15 Kyle Conel, who both went 2-0. Buckwalter beat two ranked opponents and Conel finished with a perfect dual record on the season.

The other of Kent State’s six ranked wrestlers, fifth-year senior 184-pounder No. 29 Cole Baxter lost both of his matches by five points to ranked opponents, including Edinboro’s No. 5 Victor Avery. 

Sophomore 174-pounder Jairod James showed the same promise he had in his first two career MAC duals.  He limited the damage against Central Michigan’s No. 9 Michael Ottinger in a 1-0 loss. James and fifth-year senior Mike Vollant split time at 174 Sunday. Vollant lost in sudden victory 4-2 against Edinboro. 

The Flashes also used both of their heavyweights Sunday and both ended up having arguably the most exciting matches of the entire tri-meet. Redshirt freshman Devin Nye took his match against the Chippewas to sudden victory tied at one. Nye won the match 7-1 on a takedown and four-second near fall. Sophomore Stephen Suglio got a crucial pin against Edinboro’s No. 22 Billy Miller in the first period to give Kent State a 15-9 lead. 

Suglio was bumped up to heavyweight after Conel earned the starting 197 in Kent State’s wrestle-off at the beginning of the year. Suglio’s yearlong efforts to get comfortable in a new weight class culminated with a pin in a tie dual against a ranked opponent. 

“I wasn’t really looking at the score,” Suglio said “I just needed to go out there and perform like I know that I’m able to … I’ve felt like I’ve been right there with higher ranked guys. This is just affirmation that I belong here.”

Kent State will have tough decisions to make at both at 174 and heavyweight for the MAC Tournament. 

Andrassy has said they like that they can rely on Vollant in any situation they put him in. James also sports an impressive resume in his MAC dual action. Both wrestlers have been used down the stretch, so it’s unclear who will represent 174 at the MAC Tournament.

The same can be said at heavyweight. Both Nye and Suglio have had impactful wins, including the ones at Sunday’s tri-meet. Andrassy has said he feels like he has guys at both weights that he can put out there and be happy with. 

Eight of Kent State’s 11 wins Sunday came from its freshman or sophomore wrestlers. This has been part of the formula for success all year. 

“Between (Sparkman), Devin, Conel, Tutolo, Jairod James, (redshirt freshman 165-pounder Isaac Bast) and some of the younger guys we have, I think next year we’ll be a pretty good team,” Andrassy said. “We’re going to take our lumps, but I think we have a lot of really good young guys who are just kind of chomping at the bit to get in there.”

Even though he raved about the future, Andrassy also said he’s proud of this current team. 

“I think it’s only the third or fourth time in my career we finished in the top-20,” Andrassy said. “If you would’ve asked me at the beginning of the year, I would’ve said, ‘There’s no way we’re this type of team.’”

“I’m excited about the future but I’m also excited about the rest of this year as well.”

The MAC Tournament is a two-day event that will run March 5-6 at Eastern Michigan. 

Dan Armelli is a sports reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]