Wrestling faces biggest challenge at Navy Classic

Dan Armelli

The Kent State wrestling team has rolled its way to a 4-1 record, not including its five-pin exhibition win against Akron in the Ohio Duals.

The Flashes’ early season schedule has been lighter than in past years with less travel. Their trip last weekend, about an hour away from campus, featured duals against a five-man club team and two Division-II programs.

Coach Jim Andrassy said while he would’ve liked to face tougher competition, his wrestlers have responded well so far.

“Without the travel and with the winning, your bodies feel good, and the guys are pretty happy,” he said. “Anytime they’re happy, you get more out of them in the practice room… Their attitudes are really good, they’re teaching the young guys how to work through the season rather than feeling sorry for themselves after they lose a match… We’ll find out truly how we are as a team the next two weeks.”

Saturday will be Kent State’s toughest test yet, at the Navy Classic in Annapolis, Md., with teams such as Wisconsin, InterMat’s twelfth ranked team in the country, competing.

Fifth year senior, 184-pounder Cole Baxter is one of five Kent State wrestlers who are still undefeated. With the increase in competition this week, Baxter said he won’t change his mental or physical preparation.

“If you overthink it, then you’ve already beaten yourself,” he said. “I just have to get out on the mat, do what I know how to do, and do what I’ve been practicing for the last four years and let it roll.”

Baxter is part of a successful fifth-year seniors group, lead by multiple-time NCAA qualifiers in 133-pounder Mack McGuire, 149-pounder Mike DePalma and 157-pounder Ian Miller.

Baxter said they are all focused on taking their respective next step.

“I can speak for all of the fifth-year seniors: We’ve been working hard not just this year but also the past four years,” he said. “Some of us are trying to get to the NCAAs. Some of us are trying to be more than just an NCAA qualifier.”

Andrassy noted that Baxter is in the right weight class after making the move from 197, which now belongs to redshirt freshman Kyle Conel. Conel earned the starting position after winning his wrestle-off against sophomore Stephen Suglio. Suglio was then bumped up to heavyweight after an injury cost junior Mimmo Lytle his season.

“Generally speaking, I’m not a technique kind of guy,” Conel said. “I’d probably rank myself as one of the lowest guys in technique. As coaches tell me, I have great athletic ability. The mat awareness thing is just knowing where I am on the mat and knowing what to do when I’m on the edge.”

Andrassy said he’s happy to see Conel seizing his opportunity.

Andrassy will take the Navy Classic as a way to figure out some unresolved issue at different weight classes.

“I’m curious just to see how some of the guys like (sophomore 141-pounder Chance) Driscoll will do and how we’ll respond at heavyweight,” Andrassy said.“ It looks like at this point we’re going with (fifth-year senior Del Vinas at 125) just because of a lack of anyone else that wants to step up and get it done.”

One solution to the 125-pound weight class could be sophomore 133-pounder Anthony Tutolo, who moved up a weight class this season.

“I’m interested to see how Tutolo does,” Andrassy said. “This is one of those weeks where if he doesn’t do well here, is he a 125-pounder or is he 133-pounder? There are things we’re going to find out and we can sit down with the guys and say, ‘This is what your role is. Either accept it or try to find a way to get into the lineup.’”

Even with Kent State still trying to find the right match in some weight classes, Andrassy has liked what he’s seen so far in Miller and DePalma.

“(DePalma) had a great summer working out,” Andrassy said. “But you never know where kids are going to go. Is he going to go where he left off last year where he went 0-2 in the national tournament, and he lost to guys he should’ve beat? Or is he going to take that next step? I really do think he’s taking that next step.”

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