An All-American duo

Rachel Jones

The Kent State wrestling team reaches a milestone

Danny Mitcheff and Dustin Kilgore earn All-American honors at the NCAA Championships

The Kent State wrestling team reached milestones for its program this weekend with two All-American honorees at the NCAA Championships in Omaha, Neb.

The Flashes finished in the top 25 for the second season in a row and were one of 20 teams at nationals with at least two wrestlers finishing in the top eight in their weight classes.

Becoming the 19th and 20th All-Americans for Kent State were senior Danny Mitcheff, who finished sixth, and sophomore Dustin Kilgore, who finished seventh. Kent State coach Jim Andrassy said he is proud of what the team has accomplished this year.

“I’m really excited about what we’ve done and where we’ve come from when I started,” said Andrassy, who began coaching the Flashes in 2003. “We’ve gotten better every year since I’ve been the coach. I think the best wrestling at Kent State is still ahead of us.”

At 133 pounds, Mitcheff became the second Kent State wrestler to place in the top six since 1986. Andrassy said he was proud Mitcheff accomplished his goal of finishing All-American.

“He went in there as the sixth seed and came out with a sixth place,” Andrassy said. “It’s something he’ll remember the rest of his life, and he’ll know that it was all worth it in the end.”

While he lost his final match 5-2 to No. 8 seed Tyler Graff, of Wisconsin, Mitcheff (33-6) ended with a 4-3 record in the national tournament. Andrassy said the experience was bittersweet.

“I think he’ll get a better sense of what he’s done after he gets out, but right now, I think he wishes he would have done better,” Andrassy said. “I think if the situations were perfect, he would’ve done better, but he ended up wrestling the returning national champion in the quarterfinals, which is pretty early.”

With 131 wins in his career, a school record, Andrassy said he feels Mitcheff is ending on a good note.

“There’s two ways to end, in my opinion: One way is to be an All-American, and one way is to be a national champion,” Andrassy said. “I think he’s happy with his overall career.”

Kilgore arrived at nationals seeded third at 184 pounds and left with a seventh-place medal. His victories this weekend helped him tie a program-best 37 wins in a season.

In his final match, Kilgore defeated Iowa’s No. 9 Phillip Keddy, 9-5. Andrassy said Kilgore wrestled his absolute best in that match.

“He wrestled extremely well his last two matches,” Andrassy said. “If he wrestled the way he wrestled in his last match every match, he would have been in the finals, without a doubt in my mind.”

Andrassy said the experience will help Kilgore, who finished his second trip to nationals 4-2, improve for next year.

“Every year he’s gotten better, and I expect him to get better next year,” Andrassy said. “He learned how to wrestle down there in the later rounds (this year) to get himself higher up there on the podium next year. He’s definitely good enough to be in the finals, and I expect him to be (there) next year.”

Kilgore and Mitcheff are the second pair of Kent State wrestlers to earn All-American status in the last two seasons. Last year, 2009 graduate Jermail Porter and junior Nic Bedelyon became the first to finish All-American in 23 years.

Sophomore Brendan Barlow (32-9) finished his NCAA Championships debut with a 3-2 record. Although the heavyweight was eliminated Friday after losing to Indiana’s No. 6 Nathan Everhart, Andrassy said he has high expectations for Barlow next year.

“Barlow will come back as one of the top five ranked in the country due to how many seniors there were at heavyweight,” Andrassy said.

Other wrestlers making their nationals debuts were sophomore Ross Tice and freshman Keith Witt.

Tice (28-13) finished 1-2 after falling to Ohio State’s Colt Sponseller, seeded fifth at 165 pounds, 17-3 Friday.

Witt, the youngest qualifier from Kent State this year, was eliminated after his first two matches.

With four out of five of this year’s qualifiers returning next season, Andrassy said he has high hopes for the future.

“We’ve got quite a good group coming back,” Andrassy said. “The good thing is next year we won’t have a senior on our starting lineup. I think we need to fill in some holes, but in the same sense, that’s part of the sport.”

Finishing this season at 15-4, Andrassy said he is looking to continue the success that the young wrestlers have brought to Kent State.

“I think next year we should be in the top 15 pretty easily coming in from preseason,” Andrassy said. “Ultimately, our goal is to be in the top 10, and I think that there is no reason why we can’t accomplish that with the kids that we have already and the kids that we’re bringing in, in the future.”

Contact sports reporter Rachel Jones at [email protected].