Wrestlers attempt for national rank against Northern Illinois

Sean Ammerman

Junior Drew Opfer wrestles an opponent from Eastern Michigan last Thursday’s match that the Flashes won 33-8. The Flashes competed in the Wendy’s Duals Sunday afternoon at Ashland University and won two matches, bringing their record to 10-3. ALLIEY BEND

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

This time of year doesn’t usually coincide with success for the Kent State wrestling team.

In the last three seasons, the Flashes have had losing records and sat at the bottom of the Mid-American Conference.

But with a squad that is healthy and experienced, the team has been able to maintain an edge at the start of the season. It has surged to commanding victories in its last three matches, including a win over its first MAC opponent, Eastern Michigan.

“In the last two years, during this time of the year, we’d be all beat up and feeling sorry for ourselves,” Kent State coach Jim Andrassy said. “There were a lot of negatives.”

The Flashes now have a 10-3 record and are poised to make a run at the MAC Championship. The first test of that goal will be at 7 p.m. on Friday when they face conference foe No. 24 Northern Illinois in Dekalb, Ill.

Defeating a ranked team could be enough to push the Flashes into the USA Today/NWCA NCAA Coaches Dual Meet Poll. It could also determine who becomes No. 1 in the MAC. The poll ranks the top 25 teams and 20 individuals in the country. Kent State has received votes throughout the season but have yet to be ranked.

“Last year, we felt as a team we were better than Northern,” Andrassy said. “They came here, got an upset win at 141 and ended up beating us by one point.”

Kent State will put up a starting line that has two nationally-ranked wrestlers, including No. 16 junior Chad Sportelli at 125 pounds and No. 16 senior Alex Camargo at 184 pounds.

They will meet a Northern lineup with four nationally-ranked wrestlers. A decisive bout will come when Northern’s No. 12 Pat Castillo matches up with Sportelli at 125 pounds.

Northern is favored in Friday’s matchup, according to the coaches’ poll, despite having a weaker record of 6-4. Its record may be misleading, though, as all four of those losses were to top 11 teams, and one of the wins was over No. 12 Wisconsin.

“Athletically, we’re just as good as them,” Camargo said. “But they are well-coached and disciplined. It’s going to be a fight, but I think we should come out on top.”

Kent State fell to two nationally-ranked opponents this year, including No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Missouri.

“I think our guys want to prove they can beat nationally-ranked teams,” Andrassy said, “and this is going to be our first opportunity to do it.”

Contact wrestling reporter Sean Ammerman at [email protected].edu.