KENT: Undefeated senior Dustin Kilgore is understandably the talk of Kent State wrestling as he and five teammates begin competition today at the NCAA Division I National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
Joining Kilgore this week in Iowa as he looks to complete a perfect season in the 197-pound class are fellow seniors Casey Newburg (184) and Stevie Mitcheff (125), sophomore Caleb Marsh (165) along with freshmen Sam Wheeler (174) and Mack McGuire (133).
Kilgore (39-0), Mitcheff (28-11) and Newburg (34-8) earned automatic bids to the national event after their respective performances at the Mid-American Conference Tournament. Marsh (23-10), Wheeler (25-12) of Copley High School and McGuire (24-18) were later awarded at-large bids.
Kent State coach Jim Andrassy admitted to being caught off guard by the Golden Flashes earning three at-large berths to the national event.
“It shows how strong our schedule has been and that we're doing things right as a program,” he said.
What Andrassy is trying to do is get many of KSU’s wrestlers experience earlier in their careers so that they raise the level of their expectations quicker.
Consider that the No. 1-seeded Kilgore has been the consensus No. 1 in his weight class all season. He was the 2011 national champion (he took last season off with an Olympic redshirt) and looks to wrap up a perfect season while extending his 58-match winning streak.
Andrassy’s goal is to make that kind of career-long success possible for more of KSU’s wrestlers.
“As we move to next year, we’re going to have five returning national qualifiers, many of them underclassmen,” Andrassy said. “As a coaching staff, we’re going to really start raising our kids’ expectations. Beginning with the first week to the second week and from the MAC Tournament to nationals. We did it with Dustin, and he responded great. Now it’s time to do it with everyone else so that our program continues to get better and makes more strides.”
It’s one of the reasons the coaching staff gave McGuire, a freshman, a shot in January when a starting spot opened. Now, he enters the national tournament ranked No. 27 in the final NCAA Coaches poll.
“We pretty much expected everything he was able to accomplish except maybe beating the guy from Oklahoma State,” Andrassy said of McGuire’s surprising 3-2 decision over No. 7-ranked Jon Morrison.
It was quite an accomplishment for an inexperienced kid whom Andrassy originally planned to redshirt.
“As things happened, he was the next guy in line, and we turned to him and said, ‘Listen, you can redshirt the rest of the year if you’d like or you can get in the lineup and help us.’ He said, ‘I want to be in the lineup and help the team.’
“We’d seen him wrestle in the room and knew the MAC wasn’t the toughest at that weight class, so he ought to be able to have some success even without the experience.”
That’s exactly what McGuire, a Pittsburgh native, did.
“I was happy with my season until the league tournament,” McGuire said of his fifth-place finish. “I’m really disappointed with how I did there. I thought I blew it.”
Andrassy believes the disappointment will turn into fuel to be used at nationals — where McGuire drew a rematch with Morrison in the first round — and beyond.
“The freshman season is a long season for these new guys, about two months longer than the high school season,” Andrassy said. “I just think [McGuire] was tired and didn’t know what to expect. The MAC Tournament is a lot tougher than many kids think it is. We try to get them mentally prepared for it, but sometimes the only way to do that is to just experience it. He’ll be much better for that experience and for having gone through nationals next season. Our theory is that, next year he’ll be ready and there are no excuses.”
Andrassy remembers Kilgore going through the same process as an underclassman.
“It was like that for Dustin at the national tournament [as a freshman],” Andrassy said. “He didn’t really know what to expect when he got to the national tournament and he had a bad tournament. Look at the way he rebounded. There’s no reason Mack and Sam shouldn’t be able to pattern themselves after Dustin and target his accomplishments.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.