Six wrestlers go for gold at NCAA Championships

Caleb Raubenolt

Nearly a month has passed since members of the Kent State wrestling team were proudly hoisting the 2009 Mid-American Conference regular-season championship plaque in the air after the Flashes defeated Central Michigan in Rose Arena to win their first title in 19 years.

Today, the award sits partly hidden by a box of PowerBars atop a locker inside Kent State coach Jim Andrassy’s office because he’s not ready to celebrate just yet.

Despite a season comprised of five nationally ranked wrestlers, four MAC champions and six NCAA qualifiers – the most in program history – Andrassy said there’s still progress to be made.

“The downfall’s been that we haven’t had an All-American (recently), that our university, our program can’t produce one,” Andrassy said. “That’s been the mentality that we’re trying to change.”

Six Kent State wrestlers will head to St. Louis this weekend for the NCAA Championships, hoping for the program’s first All-Americans since Don Horning in 1986.

“It’s always been the goal as a coach to get an All-American,” Andrassy said. “As soon as we have one it’ll make things easier as far as recruiting, and I think we’ll get a little more respect when it comes to scheduling.

To earn All-American honors, a wrestler must finish in the top eight of his weight class.

Entering the tournament as the Flashes’ highest seed, senior Jermail Porter (28-1) is ranked third in the heavyweight bracket and is set to face Rider’s Eddie Bordas (26-8).

“Jermail could go really far in the tournament; it comes down to just how gritty he can get,” Andrassy said. (He’s) one of those guys who, if he believes he can (win), he will.

“He’s only been taken out once this whole year, and that’s pretty impressive. To be seeded at third, I think he can live up to that and I think he will.”

Fifth-ranked redshirt freshman Dustin Kilgore is another All-American hopeful, and Andrassy said he believes Kilgore will meet his expectations.

“Dustin has yet not to amaze me,” Andrassy said. “Every challenge that we have, he’s stepped up for it.”

The only losses of Kilgore’s 31-3 record came to the first-, third- and fourth-ranked 184-pound wrestlers earlier this season.

“There’s no reason why he can’t be a semifinalist, upsetting one of those guys and hopefully upsetting somebody in the finals,” Andrassy said. He’s that kind of person; he has that type of mentality. He doesn’t get caught up in the moment – he doesn’t worry about the outcome. He just goes out and wrestles hard, and that’s what you need to do.”

After recently earning Mid-American Conference honors as 184-pound champion and Freshman of the Year, Kilgore will look to add to his 15-match winning streak with a win in the first round against Purdue’s A.J. Kissell (27-8).

“I’ve got nothing to lose,” Kilgore said. I mean, I’m a freshman (and) this is my first time here. I’ve worked real hard this season and I’ve beat a lot of good guys, so I’m just going for it just like anyone else – I’m going for the championship.”

Also looking to go deep in the tournament will be sophomore Nic Bedelyon, junior Danny Mitcheff and seniors Drew Lashaway and Eric Chine. Last year, Bedelyon (25-8), Mitcheff (23-8) and No. 12 Lashaway (29-5) qualified for the national tournament, but neither wrestler made it beyond the second round.

First-time qualifier Chine recieved an at-large invitation to the NCAA Championships despite a fourth-place finish in MAC tournament, which he entered as a top seed. His selection to the tournament came March 11, three days after Chine may have wrestled his final collegiate match.

“I was pleased for him and his family, just because he’s been on our team so long and he’s had some ups and downs,” Andrassy said. “Now he’s here and the question is, ‘What’s he going to do next?’

“If he’s just happy to be here, it’ll be a short tournament for him. But if it’s something where he wants to go there and be a part of something special, which I think the other five guys will be able to do, then I think he’ll be able to add to that.”

Andrassy said although Kent State is entering the tournament with its highest-ranked seeds in program history, the wrestlers shouldn’t be satisfied unless they’re able to give their best performances.

” I think we have the ability to go in there and get five All-Americans,” Andrassy said, “but in the same sense, I think if we go in there and we don’t wrestle up to our capability and wrestle as perfect as we can, we could come home with none.”

Contact sports reporter Caleb Raubenolt at [email protected].