KSU wrestlers are no longer under the radar

Sean Ammerman

(Left to Right) Seniors Ardian Ramadani, Jason McGee, Aaron Miller, Chad Sportelli, and Willie Leonard will help lead the Kent State wrestling team this year, after the team’s second-place finish in Mid-American Conference Championship last season. GAVIN

Credit: Steve Schirra

The Kent State Wrestling team’s biggest challenge could be finding a way to improve after a breakout season a year ago.

Last season the Flashes sent five wrestlers to nationals and finished No. 25 in the final national rankings. What may have helped them most was having all 10 starters peak at the end of the season.

This culminated in a second place finish in the Mid-American Conference Championship (behind conference powerhouse Central Michigan).

But while last season the Flashes had the advantage of flying in under the radar of most teams, this season’s opponents will be ready for them.

“Teams probably looked at us last year and said ‘Who is Kent State?'” said senior Chad Sportelli, a national qualifier at 124-pounds last season. “This year we have a name out, and everybody is going to be taking us seriously, unlike last year when people thought maybe we were going to be a pushover match when they looked at their schedule.”

The MAC preseason poll puts the Flashes at second in the conference behind the Chippewas. While some may already be circling the dual meet against Central Michigan, which is ranked No. 12 in the USA Today preseason poll, Kent State coach Jim Andrassy said he’s not thinking about a win this early in the season.

“I hope our team isn’t concerned about that (match),” Andrassy said. “I hope that isn’t our goal. If we send eight guys to the national tournament and we still lose to Central Michigan, that’s not going to bother me.”

The Flashes have a slew of tough matches early in the season to worry about, including Cliff Keen Invitational, which Andrassy said is the toughest regular-season tournament in the country.

Andrassy is not holding back expectations for his squad this year. He imagines his team as a top-15 squad in the nation, and one that can send six to eight wrestlers to nationals.

And with three national qualifiers returning in Sportelli, senior Aaron Miller and junior Kurt Gross, Andrassy said he believes this team can improve on what last year’s team accomplished.

Miller, who placed second in last season’s MAC tournament at 174 pounds, is what Andrassy referred to as a vocal leader on the team.

“Being a senior and going through it before, I just try to lead by example,” Miller said. “I just try to motivate the guys. It’s a grueling sport. It’s long, and the season takes a lot out of your body mentally and physically.”

Another team leader is Sportelli, who is returning to the starting spot at 124 pounds. He is now ranked No. 15 nationally.

“You just got to take it one match at a time, each period by period, and go from there,” Sportelli said. “You can’t be afraid to lose. You got to go out there and wrestle seven minutes hard, and don’t worry about the scores, worry about wrestling your match, and don’t let your opponent control your tempo.”

Also expected to take a leap forward this year is sophomore heavyweight Jermail Porter, who finished last season as the nation’s top freshman heavyweight. With a full year as a starter already under his belt, Porter should be a powerful asset for the team.

“If anything, it’s more of a confidence type of thing for me,” Porter said. “Physically I don’t think there’s anything in my way. This year it’s all wide open”

The team’s main weaknesses may come from the 165 and 184 pound classes, where Andrassy has yet to name official starters.

Andrassy said he will use the early season tournaments to allow different wrestlers to compete for the jobs. Sophomore Eric Chine, who won in at 184 in the season opening Oklahoma Gold Classic Tournament, should have any early advantage.

Contact assistant sports editor Sean Ammerman at [email protected].