Wrestling and gymnastics: Balancing team and the individual

Redshirt junior wrestler and economics major Chance Driscoll.

Dan Armelli

At the Ohio Duals, dawn of the wrestling season in November, Chance Driscoll sat in one of the coaches’ chairs, calling out instructions to Kent State wrestlers. 

Driscoll isn’t a coach, he’s a member of the team. He had just completed a win via major decision over Tiffin University’s Travis Salyer. Following that, he was verbally and emphatically trying to help his teammates.

Back in March, the Kent State gymnastics team was about to begin its last meet of the 2014-15 season, the MAC Championships, held in the M.A.C. Center. The Flashes had won the MAC title four times at home and were about to win their fifth. 

“We needed to win,” said sophomore gymnast Rachel Stypinski. “We wanted to send our seniors off with a good hurrah. Before we went, we all got together and were like, ‘It’s our last meet with these seniors. We know we didn’t make it to regionals, so let’s make this our best meet this season.’”

Wrestling is one-on-one combat. Gymnastics involves one athlete performing by their own.

But ultimately, both are team sports, with valuable reminders for each athlete that makes being part of a team so special.

“It is an individual sport, but at the same time you need encouragement from your teammates,” said sophomore wrestler Stephen Suglio. “If you’re constantly focused on the individual aspect of it, it could be really lonely. Then it’s just like, ‘What am I doing this for?’”

Team chemistry 

Wrestling head coach Jim Andrassy says a cohesive unit is essential. 

“Last year, with injuries and with the travel and with how hard our schedule was, we didn’t have the chemistry,” Andrassy said. “We didn’t have the right attitude to be successful. I think so far this year, we’re lightyears farther than where we were. Ultimately, for kids to be good, they need good workout partners. You look for kids that try to help each other and try to build that united team that can move forward.”

For example, Driscoll, who wrestles at 141 pounds, works out with fifth-year senior Mike DePalma, a two-time NCAA qualifier who wrestles at 149 pounds.

“Hopefully DePalma makes Driscoll good and vice versa,” Andrassy said.

Driscoll, who had to wait until his senior year at St. Edward’s High School to crack a starting spot, is a starter for the Flashes in his third year. He says attitudes can shape entire team chemistry.

“If you’ve got four or five guys in the room who are real good, working real hard and just getting after it every single day, that’s contagious,” Driscoll said. “All the younger guys see that and think, ‘Man, they’re at where they’re at because of how hard they work.’”

Junior gymnast Skyelee Lamano, whose hometown is Layton, Utah, says having a solid bond with her teammates is important.

“I like the comfort of knowing that they’re there for me friend-wise, teammate-wise, and even just to push me,” she said. “Even if I’m not there in a lineup, they push me to get into a lineup. In all aspects, teammates are nice to have, especially since I’m so far away from home.”

Senior gymnast Nicolle Eastman says that teamwork and friendship can help boost her own ability, even though she’s the sole athlete on the mat when she’s performing.

 “It gets really nerve-racking out there,” she said. “Having that relationship with your teammates and being able to talk to them and look to them for advice or just to feel comfort (is good). I think that makes it so much better, easier and calmer when you’re out competing.”

Being selfish

One thing Andrassy talks about is great wrestlers needing to be a little selfish in order to be successful.

Andrassy said every now and then he gets a wrestler, like Kent State alum and NCAA Champion Dustin Kilgore and fifth-year senior Ian Miller, who change how Andrassy treats them. 

“Ian has to do things different than some of these guys because his body’s built different,” Andrassy said. “He’s almost like a thoroughbred racehorse… He isn’t like a horse that’s pulling the sled. He’s a horse that you’re only racing once every four or five weeks. With wrestling, you have got to be careful. You have got to train people different. With that being said, it is individual, but also for us, it’s a team result as well.”

Being unselfish 

But selfishness can go too far, Andrassy says.

“The great kids or people are the ones that are able to be great athletes and also are able to help their team,” he said.

Gymnastics coach Brice Biggin said he talks to his team about the importance of being unselfish.

“What they have to learn is they may have been the best kid at their gym, and they may have been the best kid for quite a while,” Biggin said. “But now, everything they do, they may be fifth or sixth.There are some very difficult decisions we have to make as coaches when there are seven or eight girls who are all capable going in.”

Center of attention

Wrestling and gymnastics athletes spend a lot of time with their teammates in the wrestling room, in the gymnastics room, or on a bus heading to a meet. However, when it comes time for them to perform, physically, they are the only out there representing their teams.

Miller, who has won three MAC Championships, says the aspect of wrestling he loves is having all eyes on him.

“I like getting the big moves,” he said. “I like getting the crowd behind me. I like to be a crowd pleaser. I like to have the center of attention on me.”

While Miller said wrestlers like he and Kilgore enjoy being on the mat to win for themselves, their wins end up helping the team.

“If we’re winning for ourselves, we’re going to win for the team,” Miller said. “I think if we do well, be selfish and just think about ourselves, it’ll actually help the team in the long run.” 

Stypinski, the only member of the gymnastics team to make the NCAA Regionals last year, said she feeds off of competing alone, but her desire to do well for the team makes having a good performance that much more important.

“I know I do a lot better under pressure than when I’m just here practicing,” she said. “I know I have to do well for the team and succeed (and) do well to help the lineup and… get the scores up.”

Buying in

A lot of Kent State’s wrestling and gymnastic athletes come from high schools where they were the best.

Biggin said it can be tough for newcomers to understand an individual can have a successful day without the team necessarily doing well or vice versa.

“I think it’s hard for our freshman because everything they’ve always done in this sport has always been individualized for them,” Biggin said. “What they did really just affected themselves. When they come into college, that all changes completely. They have to really buy into the philosophy or they lose their individualism here. But they (can help) create a team atmosphere.”

Andrassy said one of the best years since he’s been at Kent State was when Kilgore didn’t even place at the NCAA Championships and the team took 18th in the country. In the 2008-2009 season, Kent State sent a school record of six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships.

“I think with wrestling it’s about (the individual and the team),” Andrassy said. “One of the things that we’ve talked about is we have the (11th) longest streak of having an All-American in the country. That’s mainly an individual thing, but it also shows a lot about our program.” 

Suglio is a wrestler who has shown the ability to buy into the team aspect.

Suglio wrestled at 197 pounds before losing in a wrestle-off to redshirt freshman Kyle Conel for the starting position. Because of an injury to last year’s heavyweight starter Mimmo Lytle, Suglio moved up to heavyweight. 

Suglio said his transition from 197 pounds to heavyweight exemplifies how much of a team sport wrestling really is.

“I think we have a certain goal that we want to reach as a team as far as where we want to place in the M.A.C,” he said. “Obviously it is a struggle having to move up (against) wrestling guys who are a lot bigger and stronger. When it comes down to it, I feel like in college, it’s more of a team thing. We’re all really good here, so we’re trying to reach this goal together.”

Driscoll said that even though he’s an individual on the mat, he’s representing Kent State no matter where he goes.

“I’m representing something that’s a lot bigger than myself,” he said. “When I step on the mat, I’m wrestling for my family, my team and who I represent. If I do something off the mat that’s stupid, that reflects on my coaches not only at Kent State but also at St. Edwards’s. I’ve got to conduct myself in a manner that makes my coaches proud of me.”

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