KSU wrestlers grapple with struggles or rigorous season

Richie Mulhall

People enter and exit the M.A.C. Center Annex every day, and their route will often take them past the wrestling room where the team practices. The wrestling room, insulated with protective rubber floor matting and padded walls emblazoned with the distinguishable Golden Flash logo, is a true testament to how hard the Kent State University wrestlers work to get to this high level of wrestling and mold themselves into the great wrestlers they aspire to be.

Some people who walk by the room complain and say that it stinks or smells horrible due to the sweat perspired by exhausted athletes. But it is the aroma of the hard work dedication, blood, sweat and tears these strong, steadfast college athletes are willing to dedicate and sacrifice to their sport that really fills the air.

The Kent State wrestlers, who train from the beginning of the school year up to the NCAA Championships in March, have one long, rigorous season to endure before the mats are rolled up for the summer. And the wrestling and training aren’t only parts of the difficult season with which college athletes, especially wrestlers, must deal.

Wrestling and training, maintaining weight and eating healthily are just a few challenges the Flashes wrestlers have dealt with throughout the 2012-2013 season. It is a long, vigorous season, but the feeling of their hand being raised in victory at the end of a match makes it all worth it.

A grueling season

With the typical college wrestling lasting about seven of the 12 months that unite to create a full year, sophomore and 165-pounder Caleb Marsh said one has to remain tough and committed to survive.

“It’s a hard sport, but you get used to it,” Marsh said. “You just gotta do what you gotta do to get through it. You just gotta accept [wrestling] for what it is.”

Fifth-year senior Stevie Mitcheff said the workouts are brutal, and there’s a lot of repetitive practicing and drilling that go into them to prove that practice makes perfect. He said the team usually practices two hours or three hours a day, and sometimes the team will have two-a-days with lifting in the morning to build strength and wrestling and cardio in afternoon to sharpen skills. Head coach Jim Andrassy said the thing that’s different about Kent State’s wrestling program in regard to training intensity is the “mental grind” he likes to put his squad through.

“The mental grind that we put these guys through, as far as when your body’s tired and your mind’s tired, we make them do things that become very, very exhausting and not easy,” Andrassy said.

Andrassy thinks there is no other sport like wrestling. He said the combination of the “weekly grind of making weight for a wrestling match” and the intense season and pre-season training arguably makes it the most difficult sport on campus.

“The fact that you have to cut weight adds a whole nother level element to how hard these guys work,” Andrassy said. “I’ve played other sports; I was a really good high school athlete in three sports, and there isn’t another sport anywhere close to being as hard as wrestling. I don’t believe there’s any other sport on campus that worked as hard as me when I was [at Kent State], and I believe I work these guys way harder than when I was there.”

Maintaining weight

Making weight in wrestling is a difficult, sometimes strenuous task that burdens wrestlers and has no affect on athletes of other sports.

In wrestling, there are 10 weight classes: 125, 133, 141, 149, 157, 165, 174, 184, 197 and the heavyweight jump to 285. The coaching staff expects the starters in each weight class to maintain their weight in time to compete. If they cannot complete task, the opportunity to wrestle in upcoming match or tournament will be stripped from them.

One Flash who must cut more weight to wrestle than anyone is redshirt freshman and 174-pounder Sam Wheeler.

Wheeler, who will wrestle at 184 pounds next year because the weight is more comfortable for him than 174, focuses on managing his eating and calculating how much weight he must lose whenever a match soon approaches.

“We just know our bodies and know how much we can lose at a time,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he tries to drink a lot of water and stay away from sugary foods throughout the season because, according to him, those types of foods will make him hungrier. He said he’s gotten used to his diet as the season advances, but it can still take its toll on him at times.

“The nights before a tournament are always the worse. You get really bad cotton mouth from not being able to drink a lot of water,” Wheeler said. “It’s kinda hard to sleep the night before, too.”

In order for wrestlers like Wheeler to make weight, dedication to creating a nutritious diet becomes essential for wrestlers to have during a rigorous season.

Eating healthily

Wrestlers are expected to eat the right foods and drink the proper liquids in order to stay in prime shape throughout the long season. Unlike many normal college students who spend their days eating greasy, fattening foods like pizza, cheeseburgers and Nathan’s hot dogs from the HUB, wrestlers must resist temptations of these unhealthy foods of vice.

Every wrestler may have his own diet or “plan of attack” when it comes to eating healthy. Marsh said he found his healthy strategy online when he looked up a 2,000 calorie diet on the Internet.

“I just meet the criteria for vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy daily,” Marsh said. “At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t so good with it, but I figured it out pretty well midway through the season. I got it under control.”

Mitcheff, who has been used to the wrestling way of eating for five straight years now, said he has his own routine that keeps him lean at 125 pounds, college wrestling’s smallest weight class.

“I just stick to the basics like eggs, peanut butter and jelly, chocolate milk, things like that,” Mitcheff said.

It is hard to argue with Mitcheff’s diet regimen, especially since he is 28-11 this season and headed to the NCAA Championships at the end of March.

Even though college wrestlers are expected to eat all the healthy foods Mitcheff mentioned, sometimes it becomes challenging to find nutritious food on and around a college campus. This is especially true for the young up-and-coming freshmen who are often surrounded by friends and peers and become the unfortunate victims of the dreaded freshman fifteen.

“It’s definitely a challenge because it’s not like being at home,” freshman Luke Kern said. “There’s quite a few healthy things around campus if you just look for it.”

According to Andrassy, though, the difficult part of eating healthy is not finding the right foods but “staying disciplined enough to eat healthily enough on an every day basis on a college campus.” Andrassy said if they can do that, they will be able to maintain weight and stay injury free because eating healthy plays a huge role in taking care of their bodies. He believes “the guys who sacrifice more are usually gonna win more.” He used fifth-year senior Dustin Kilgore as the perfect example of what taking care of the body can do for wrestlers.

“(Dustin) sacrifices a lot of weight,” Andrassy said. “One way he sacrifices is he doesn’t drink alcohol; he’s never drank alcohol. Everything he does is fluid, so he does sacrifice, but for him, it’s worth it because he has goals.”

The sacrifice and dedication of a Kent State wrestler shines through the example of Kilgore, the 2011 NCAA champion, who trains hard, maintains weight and eats and drinks healthy in order to achieve his dreams.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].