The road(s) less traveled

Rachel Jones

Five Kent State wrestlers will head to the NCAA Championships tomorrow in Omaha, Neb.

Senior Danny Mitcheff, sophomore Dustin Kilgore, sophomore Brendan Barlow, sophomore Ross Tice and freshman Keith Witt will represent the Flashes.

Five Kent State wrestlers will head to the NCAA Championships tomorrow in Omaha, Neb.

Senior Danny Mitcheff, sophomore Dustin Kilgore, sophomore Brendan Barlow, sophomore Ross Tice and freshman Keith Witt will represent the Flashes.

Although all five qualifiers will compete together in the Quest Center, each wrestler traveled a different path to reach this point.

Brendan Barlow

Out of the shadow and onto the mat

Previously in the shadow of All-American senior Jermail Porter, Brendan Barlow did not shine on Kent State’s wrestling team until this season.

Barlow redshirted his freshman year but said it gave him valuable experience.

“I feel pretty good about my career so far,” Barlow said. “I lost a year last year to Jermail, but I learned a lot being behind him. I don’t really have any regrets.”

The time off also helped when Barlow had heart surgery at the end of last year.

“I was born with this disorder that made my heart beat really fast when I wrestled,” he said.

Fully recovered, Barlow (30-7) has made a name for himself this year.

“I feel pretty good about this season,” he said. “I did pretty much what I thought I was going to do, and I’ve accomplished most of my goals so far.”

In his nationals debut, Barlow said his main goal is to become an All-American.

“I don’t want to focus too much on ‘the experience’ because I want to go there and do it,” Barlow said. “I don’t want to go there, get the experience and be like ‘Oh, well, I know what it’s like for next year.’”

Barlow will wrestle the pigtail match against Cornell’s Josh Arnone (19-7) just to get into the first round. The Mid-American Conference Champion was surprised by the arrangement but is ready for the challenge.

“When I saw it, I thought, ‘Really?’” Barlow said, laughing. “I wasn’t expecting it, but that’s OK because I’ll just go out and wrestle like I have been all year.”

Barlow said he is ready and excited for the tournament.

“This is very, very important to me,” Barlow said. “It’s what I’ve been wrestling for my whole life.”

Danny Mitcheff

Ending on a good note

Senior Danny Mitcheff is making his fourth trip to the NCAA Championship tournament this weekend, but for him, the excitement has yet to wear off.

Mitcheff said the tournament is important not only to him, but to every collegiate wrestler.

“Coming into college, everybody has high goals, and everybody wants to be a national champion,” Mitcheff said.

“Nationals is the toughest tournament out there, and I want to do well there.”

At 133 pounds, Mitcheff (30-3) finished his final season with a new school record for most career wins (127) and a MAC Championship title. Mitcheff said he is proud of what he has accomplished.

“This season went really well for me,” Mitcheff said. “I know I had three losses, but it’s all right because I think I learned from them.”

Mitcheff will take what he has learned to accomplish his goal of winning a national title, which he fell short of last year, finishing runner-up.

“It could have been better, but things don’t always work out the way you plan,” he said. “I wanted to be All-American last year, but it didn’t happen. It’s all right because it helped me work harder for this year and be more prepared.”

Mitcheff, seeded sixth, will begin his tournament against Stanford’s Justin Paulsen (23-13). This will be Mitcheff’s last time wrestling for Kent State.

“I’m definitely going to miss it because I’ve been wrestling forever,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a little emotional when it’s over, but you just have to move on with your life afterwards.”

Mitcheff said he wants to stay involved in wrestling by applying as the graduate assistant for the team next year and coaching in the future.

“No matter what happens, I’ve had fun here,” Mitcheff said. “It was a good career, and it’ll end on a good note.”

Dustin Kilgore

Not repeating history

Boasting a record of 33-1, redshirt sophomore Dustin Kilgore is hoping to add some more tallies to his win column this weekend.

Last year, Kilgore entered the tournament seeded fifth and lost his first round. He said his desire not to repeat history will motivate him this weekend.

“I look back, and I remember how upset I was,” Kilgore said. “Last year I was more worn out and beat up. I feel a lot better this year going into the national tournament without a doubt.”

Kilgore said his goal is to win a national title, but he will not be heartbroken if he falls short.

“I wouldn’t be upset with myself if I came out All-American because last year I didn’t get to,” Kilgore said. “I’d really appreciate it if I could do it this year. I’ve been working really hard.”

With that hard work and his experience going last year, Kilgore said he is more confident this time around.

“You get the feel for it,” he said. “It’s a big crowd and people are expecting a lot. (After) going there (before), you kind of get used to it, know what to expect and what you’re looking for.”

Kilgore (184) will wrestle Cornell’s Steve Bosak (25-13) first. The MAC Champion said he is seeded third, which makes him happy and a little nervous.

“No matter what, it’s always going to be nerve-racking,” Kilgore said. “You could be seeded first, you could not be seeded at all, but you’re going to be just as nervous.”

Nerves aside, Kilgore said he is excited to travel to the big event.

“With a big crowd, some people turn it on with the wrestling, and some people turn it off,” he said. “I’m feeling good this year, so I’m looking to turn it on and wrestle well.”

Keith Witt

Young and restless

As the youngest Kent State wrestler heading to the NCAA Championships, redshirt freshman Keith Witt is taking this opportunity to gain experience.

Witt compared his current situation to when he wrestled in high school.

“I wanted to get to state my freshman year in high school just to experience a higher competition,” Witt said. “It was important to make it (to nationals) this year so I can experience it for years to come. It helps you later on in your career.”

Another experience that Witt said helped him this season was redshirting last year.

“I had a year to experience what college is about and the different, higher competition,” Witt said. “It helped me out, and I think I’ve gotten better.”

After upsetting Ohio’s Jacob Ibson with a pin in his first match at the MAC Championships March 6-7, Witt showed he was not to be taken lightly.

“I think this season is going to help me in the seasons to come and next year,” he said. “I know that every match matters to get the rankings I want.”

The MAC runner-up said he has mixed emotions about the tournament.

“I’ve been to bigger tournaments when I was in high school, so I’ve been in situations like this before,” Witt said. “I’m not too intimidated or nervous, but we’ll see what happens when I get out there.”

At 174 pounds, Witt’s first match is against the number six seed, Oklahoma State’s Mike Benefiel (25-13).Witt said he is taking the tournament one match at a time and is hoping to make a name for himself on a national level.

“My goal was to make it to nationals, and that’s what I did,” Witt said. “Once you achieve your goal, you just want to keep moving on. You don’t want to settle for mediocrity.”

Ross Tice

The long road to nationals

Based on time spent wrestling at the MAC Championship, nobody fought harder for a ticket to nationals than redshirt sophomore Ross Tice.

At 165 pounds, Tice had to wrestle everyone in his weight class to finish second place. Focused on his goal, Tice said he was unaware that he wrestled that much.

“I didn’t realize I had wrestled everyone until after the tournament,” Tice said. “I just kept wrestling and going through it.”

The battle ended in his favor, but Tice said there was a time when nationals did not seem like a possibility.

“There was one point in the season where I was losing a few matches and wasn’t wrestling well,” Tice said. “I got confidence, started wrestling better in the practice room and it all clicked.”

Tice (27-12) is wrestling Lehigh’s Brandon Hatchett (14-8) first. The grappler said he is excited to wrestle opponents he has not seen this season.

“In the MAC, they scout and have film, and you see them and they know exactly what’s going on,” Tice said. “With this, I have no idea what they’re going to do, and they have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Tice said he is looking forward to breaking some hearts to advance in the tournament.

“I’m a little nervous, but at the same time I’m kind of confident,” Tice said. “I can just upset people and win matches.”

While he is not opposed to winning All-American, Tice said he just wants to take things one at a time.

“It’s easier going in not seeded because there’s not a target on your back,” Tice said. “Everyone’s not going out there saying ‘Hey, we’re going to go after Ross Tice.’”

Contact sports reporter Rachel Jones at [email protected].