The youth of the nation

Rachel Jones

Underclassmen lead charge for MAC title

When the Kent State wrestling team heads to the Mid-American Conference Championships this weekend, it will only bring two upperclassmen: senior Danny Mitcheff and junior Matt Cathell.

The rest of the lineup includes four freshmen and four sophomores.

Kent State coach Jim Andrassy is bringing a young team to the biggest competition of the season, but he does not want to use that as an excuse.

“Even though they’re freshmen, I expect a lot of things from them,” Andrassy said. “I expect them to go out and wrestle the Kent State way — always attacking, working hard, fighting hard and making guys fight for every point they get.”

The Flashes, ranked 16th in the nation, will face various wrestlers from Ohio, Buffalo, Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan at 1 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday at Central Michigan University. This tournament determines who advances to the NCAA Championships.

“For some people, this could be the end of the season,” Andrassy said. “(This tournament) is the most important thing we do.”

After losing to Central Michigan Feb. 21, the team heads into the tournament ranked second in the conference.

“Our first goal was to be team MAC champions, but we took second,” Andrassy said. “It’s not a bad thing; we were just upset we didn’t accomplish it. We need to go back to the drawing board and now try to win a team tournament championship.”

Andrassy said this may be harder for the newer wrestlers, but it is a good experience for them.

“I think until you’ve been to this tournament, it’s a tough tournament,” Andrassy said. “If you go into it and you’re not ready to wrestle seven hard minutes, then you’re not going to have success. That’s what this is about: learning how to compete at the highest level so they can fulfill their goals either this year or in the future.”

This is the first big collegiate tournament for redshirt freshman Adam Cogar (18-8).

“It’s my whole season,” Cogar said. “Other meets are like practice for this tournament. It determines whether or not I go to nationals, so it’s very important.”

Andrassy said Cogar (197) has done well for a freshman, and he is relying on him this weekend. While that seems like a lot of pressure, Cogar said he is not worried.

“I’m not really that nervous because I don’t have anything to lose,” he said. “Most of the guys I’m wrestling are seniors, so all the pressure’s on them. If I don’t make it, then I’m not supposed to, but if I do, then that’s a good thing.”

Cogar will only face opponents he wrestled earlier this season. He has been watching film this week to fix the previous mistakes he made.

“The way I wrestle, I think it’s easier (to wrestle previous opponents) because the goal of a lot of people is to keep it close and win in overtime against me,” Cogar said. “For me, I get to look at them over the season, so I get to fine-tune what I do against them.”

Another redshirt freshman making his MAC Championships debut is Keith Witt (22-11).

“It’s my first year going to the MAC tournament, so I’m looking to make a name for myself,” Witt said. “I’m just trying to look at it as another tournament and not get too stressed out about it. I’ll just take it one match at a time.”

Witt said his main goal is to go to nationals. To prepare, he is trying new techniques to throw off his opponents.

“Kids are starting to figure out what I do on the mat,” Witt said. “I need to switch it up and do different things or do different things to lead into what I usually do.”

Witt has been icing his right shoulder recently after practice, but Andrassy said it will not hinder his performance this weekend.

“Everybody by this time of the year is beat up,” Andrassy said. “Something hurts on everyone’s body in the entire country. If someone’s 100 percent healthy, they aren’t training hard during the year.”

Mallie Shuster (23-11) is another freshman to look for. At 157 pounds, Andrassy said he is one of the most technically sound wrestlers on the team.

“As far as technique, he’s as good as anyone in the country,” Andrassy said. “I think he should go out and be attacking as much and as often as he can because his technique and his athletic ability are pretty good.”

Redshirt freshman Chase Skonieczny (19-15) shined Feb. 21 when he upset Central Michigan’s Conor Beebe 5-4. Andrassy said he is looking for a repeat this weekend.

“He has the ability; everyone knows it,” Andrassy said. “If he can go out there, stay focused and stay mentally tough for seven minutes, he’s as good as anyone in the conference.”

The more experienced wrestlers going are redshirt sophomore Dustin Kilgore (30-1), ranked first in the country, and senior Danny Mitcheff (28-3), ranked eighth. Andrassy said he expects both wrestlers to easily handle this tournament.

“Both of those guys know exactly what to expect,” he said. “This should be one step to reaching their goals (of going to nationals).”

With experienced leaders and hopeful freshman, Andrassy said he has high expectations for this weekend.

“Our goal is to have ten champions, ten national qualifiers and the belief that when we step onto that mat, no one’s in better shape than us and no one is better than us,” Andrassy said. “We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to dominate.”

Contact sports reporter Rachel Jones at [email protected].