Kent State overcomes deficits to defeat Eastern Michigan, Buffalo


Freshman Sam Wheeler takes on his opponent at a meet with Eastern Michigan on Feb. 1 in Ypsilanti, Mi. Kent State won that match 24-15. Photo by Lukas Burch.

Richie Mulhall

The Kent State wrestling team overcame a couple shaky starts in its last two Mid-American Conference matches of the season over the weekend to defeat both Eastern Michigan and Buffalo on the road.

In Ypsilanti, Mich., the Flashes trailed 15-6 at the midway point of the meet Friday. The team ended up rallying for five-straight victories to defeat EMU 24-15 at Bowen Field House.

After fifth-year senior Stevie Mitcheff (125 pounds) put Kent State on top with a 5-1 decision, two Eagles’ pins caught the Flashes off-guard and put them nine points back. Sophomore Caleb Marsh (165 pounds) put the flashes back on top by scoring a 4-1 decision over EMU’s Jacob Davis.

The same sense of urgency was felt in Buffalo Sunday, as the Flashes found themselves down 19-3 after the first six matches of the day. A sudden, overnight illness to Mitcheff gave the Bulls a crucial 6-0-forfeit lead at 125 pounds, and the only Kent State wrestler to wrack up a victory in the first six matches was true freshman Mack McGuire, who defeated Justin Farmer of Buffalo 8-2.

“I was feeling nervous on both [matches] because when you get off to a bad start, at some point it starts to get you down and sometimes guys don’t wrestle as well because of that,” Kent State coach Jim Andrassy said. “I was concerned of what [the wrestlers’] intensity was going to be.”

Things against Buffalo did not start picking up for the Flashes until the 174-pound bout. Redshirt freshman Sam Wheeler took over the reins and awakened his team by defeating Buffalo’s John-Martin Cannon via injury decision 19-9.

After Wheeler’s win, which was only Kent State’s second win of the day, the Flashes put up 19 unanswered points to defeat Buffalo 22-19 at Alumni Arena. Andrassy said he thought his team performed “very, very average” this weekend.

The Flashes struggled from 133 pounds to 165 pounds. Andrassy attributes most of those struggles to the fact that the team is very young, especially in the 133-, 141- and 149-pound weight classes.

“I think [in] both matches we were the better team,” Andrassy said. “We just struggled in certain situations. We don’t know how to just take over a match, that’s something that [the younger wrestlers] really haven’t learned how to do yet.”

Andrassy said it is frustrating at times to watch his young team struggle and not get the hang of things the way they should, but in the same sense, he said he his team will get things going as the season comes to end and the MAC Championship approaches.

At 149 pounds, sophomore Andy Candiello split the weekend 1-1 and rode out EMU’s Michael Shaw for the entire third period Friday in a 2-1 victory.

The four heroes for Kent State this weekend were Wheeler and fifth-year seniors Casey Newburg (184 pounds), Dustin Kilgore (197 pounds) and Keith Witt (285 pounds). These wrestlers all went 2-0 on the weekend, and their victories helped cap a great come-from-behind win Friday.

After Wheeler ignited his team with victories in both matches Friday and Saturday, Newburg added to the fire by scoring victories of his own. He first bested EMU’s Phillip Joseph 5-3 and then went on to score a 12-3 major decision over Buffalo’s Dominic Montesanti. He had five takedowns in the Buffalo bout.

Ranked No. 15 in the nation at 184, according to Division 1 College Wrestling, Newburg is now 29-5 this season with two pins, five technical falls and five major decisions.

At 197, Kent State’s 2011 NCAA National Champion continued to impress the Mid-American Conference this weekend. Kilgore kept his perfect season well intact with a 21-6 technical fall over EMU’s Anthony Abro and pinned Buffalo’s Jeff Palmeri in just 45 seconds.

Kilgore’s streak of eight-straight duals with a pin in the first two periods may have been snapped Friday, but his NCAA and dual winning streaks are still very much alive. Kilgore’s NCAA winning streak extended to 51 matches and his dual winning streak to 61 Sunday.

Kilgore improved to 30-0 on the year and completed a perfect 20-0 career MAC dual with his 61st straight dual victory. Kilgore’s 16th pin of the season Sunday was his ninth in the last 10 duals. He is now only one pin shy of breaking Kent State’s single-season record for pins set by Jim Swetter.

Witt sealed Kent State’s victory in Michigan by beating EMU’s Chris Eggert 3-0.

With the score tied at 19 Sunday against Buffalo, Witt made his final conference dual a memorable one when he scored a 6-0 shutout over Buffalo’s Jedd Mason to cap the Golden Flashes’ most impressive comeback. Andrassy is hoping to get Mitcheff and Carr back soon so the team can continue to move forward and improve.

“We need to get all the guys out there, we need to get all the guys back and get the intensity level up,” Andrassy said.

Over the last eight seasons, KSU has gone 33-6-1 (84 percent) in MAC duals.

“Our program’s come a long way compared to what it was at years before that, and I don’t know any other sports on this campus or any other campus that can say they have that kind of conference winning percentage,” Andrassy said. “That’s pretty good.”

The Flashes will return to action Friday when they take on Cleveland State in the M.A.C. Center’s first “Beauty and the Beast” wrestling-gymnastics dual.

Contact Richie Mulhall at [email protected].