Flashes finish in top four in Kent State open

Sean Ammerman

Kent State’s Kyle Chonko won a 10-5 decision against Penn State’s Ben Mandelbraut in the 141 lb-class Saturday morning in the Gym Annex. Kent State placed fifth overall. ALLIEY BENDER | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

While fans cheered the Kent State men’s basketball team just a building away, the Kent State wrestling team competed in the Kent State Open amid competitors, families and empty Powerade bottles in the Gym Annex.

The tournament, in which more than 200 wrestlers competed in 10 weight classes, did not count toward Kent State wrestling’s season record. It did, however, create an opportunity for individual competition for wrestlers from 21 schools. The Big Ten, the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and the Mid-American Conference were among the conferences represented Saturday.

Jim Andrassy, Kent State wrestling head coach and organizer of the event, said the purpose of the tournament was to give redshirts and back-ups a chance to prove themselves. Kent State entered a total of 14 wrestlers, none of which were starters.

The top finisher representing Kent State was junior Willie Leonard, who placed first in the heavyweight bracket.

In the championship match, Leonard faced Terry Tate from Edinboro. Tate had three pins earlier in the day, but had a tougher time dealing with Leonard. The two used every inch of the mat in their battle, and in several instances spectators had to step back to avoid the wrestlers.

The match was tied 1-1 through regulation and one overtime when Leonard grabbed an escape point. Tate had an opportunity to tie in the third overtime, but Leonard shut him out, riding his way to a 2-1 victory.

“That’s pretty much how all my matches go,” Leonard said. “I hold them down and try to get them out.”

As a junior, Leonard said he expected to do well in the tournament, which mostly consisted of younger competitors.

The next highest finisher from Kent State was freshman Corey Opfer, who placed third in 125 lbs. division.

Opfer lost a close opening round match to Josh Williams of Central Michigan 4-2 in overtime, but recovered to win five matches in a row, three of them by pin. He capped off his streak with a first period pin that left Ross Gitomer of Virginia limping.

Sophomore Clint Sponseller took fourth place at 141 lbs. after losing to Steve Brown of Central Michigan in the consultation finals. Sponseller went into the third period down 6-2 to Brown. Ringside Kent State teammates were able to cheer him to a comeback, but he fell short in the final minutes 8-6.

Redshirt freshman Corey Maier took fourth place at 165 lbs. in an exhausting performance after wrestling three matches in under an hour due to a competition overload in his weight division.

As Maier squared off with Justin Fraga from Perdue University, the referee joked that he planned to let stalling slide since the two had just wrestled matches within minutes of each other. Exhaustion visible on his face, Maier wrestled to a 6-5 final, just shy of third place.

Overall, the Kent State wrestlers took fifth place with a team score of 101.5 points. MAC rival Central Michigan took first with 176.5 points.

Contact wrestling reporter Sean Ammerman at [email protected].