Rings, Flashes look for second chances

Colin Harris

Wrestling co-captain Ben Rings, junior, prepares for this weekend’s MAC wrestling tournament in the M.A.C. Center. Rings was called up to serve in Iraq two years ago right before the MAC championship and eagerly awaits the chance to pin some wrestlers to

Credit: Andrew popik

As important as wrestling is to Ben Rings, he has a higher call that he must answer to.

At this time two years ago, Rings, a junior co-captain for the Kent State men’s wrestling team, had just completed a successful individual season and was preparing for the Mid-American Conference championships when his National Guard unit was called to active duty. Rings missed the tournament and the subsequent season.

Now Rings is making up for lost time. He along with the rest of the wrestling team will compete in the MAC championship meet today and tomorrow at the M.A.C. Center. The meet starts at noon today and 11 a.m. tomorrow.

In a matter of months, Rings was on his way to the Middle East as one of 120,000 soldiers deployed as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Fast-forward two years later, and Rings has been held out of competition again, suffering an injury to his MCL against Northern Illinois Jan. 14, which kept him out of competition for the remainder of the season.

Rings said he feels 100 percent and cannot wait to return to the mat for the first time in a month and a half for the MAC tournament.

Being a co-captain for the Flashes, Rings is a player that is relied upon heavily for direction and a sense of leadership. Rings answered the question of how hard it has been to watch his teammates struggle in his absence with a smile.

“It sucked,” Rings said, chuckling. “I wanted to be out there helping the team, and it was hard to not be able to compete.”

While Rings is getting his second chance, the rest of the Flashes are just looking for a chance.

In coach Jim Andrassy’s mind, the MAC tournament represents a fresh start for a Flashes team that has had its share of struggles during this campaign.

“One of the things I told our guys after the Central Michigan meet is that at this point, everyone is 0-0,” Andrassy said. “Yeah, we’re seeding people (for the tournament brackets), but the way this tournament runs, you pretty much have to wrestle everyone if you want to win.”

Andrassy said that with only six teams in the tournament, it really doesn’t matter who beat whom during the regular season.

“There’s not much difference between the fourth seed and a guy who is unseeded, in my opinion,” Andrassy said. “You’re still going to have to wrestle two guys to get up there, so everyone is winless and that is how our guys approached (practice).”

Andrassy said the way the meet is run, no one is eliminated until they lose two matches, so even if you were to lose once, anyone can have a shot at redemption.

Redemption is something that is weighing heavily on the minds of the Flashes going into the MAC championships.

“I don’t know if it was the way Central Michigan wrestled (in the final meet of the season),” Andrassy said. “But our guys walked off the mat and thought, hey, I have a chance to beat that guy if I ever see him again.”

On the box score, the Flashes got blown out against Central Michigan, but most of the matches were lost by a slim margin.

The Flashes are hoping that they can carry a sense of optimism over to tournament competition, as an impressive showing in tournament play will be important to their hopes of making it to nationals.

“It would be kind of nice to just be able to wrestle through the MAC tournament and not have to concentrate so much on (getting to nationals),” Andrassy said. “We’re trying to get our guys to wrestle (at their best) right now, and then they’ll have to turn around and do it again in two weeks. That’s the hard part about the MAC.”

Many MAC wrestlers have to focus completely on winning their conference before they can even think about making it to the NCAA, whereas a major conference wrestler can have an average showing at his conference tournament and still be in good shape for an NCAA bid.

Contact wrestling reporter Colin Harris at [email protected].