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Coming into this weekend’s MAC Tournament Championship at Kent State University, Tom Borrelli’s Central Michigan Chippewas are in a familiar, yet unfamiliar position.
Poised to win its seventh straight MAC Championship, CMU is ranked second in the nation, the highest any sport the Mt. Pleasant campus has ever witnessed. A big part of the reason has been Borrelli’s development of green recruits into dominant wrestlers on the national stage.
Kent State has also been improving the last few years and coach Jim Andrassy has a handful of wrestlers he’s looking to earn All-American status.
Eastern Michigan, under second-year coach Derek DelPorto set new standards in terms of dual meet wins in a season and 133-pounder Sean Clair ranked for the majority of the season.
Northern Illinois is undergoing a slight rebuilding year, but it too has a few wrestlers that coach Dave Grant is hoping make an impact in St. Louis in two weeks.
Ohio and Buffalo both had their share of struggles this season but both programs are hopeful of carrying a few wrestlers to the NCAA championships.
The MAC as a whole is a pretty stout conference and everyone not wearing maroon and gold will try to prove that the strength of the MAC isn’t just the nation’s second ranked team.
Unfortunately, there won’t be a finalist qualifying as the MAC will only get 19 bids to the NCAA’s.
125 pounds Central Michigan’s Luke Smith is the top dog and should return to the NCAA championships for a fourth time. The senior comes in sporting a 22-6 and has won nine in a row after a January slump which saw him lose five in a row at one point. Kent State’s Nick Bedelyon started off the year hot, which included a fall over Bloomsburg’s Mike Sees and spending time in the national rankings. T.J. Wunnicke of Northern Illinois could play darkhorse, but it’s a safe bet that Bedelyon and Smith will represent the MAC at 125.
133 pounds The MAC has three ranked wrestlers in the conference, led by Pat Castillo of Northern Illinois. Castillo was atop the country in major decision victories this season, while Sean Clair of Eastern Michigan comes in ranked 15th at 27-5 and Dan Mitcheff of Kent is 27-6. The likely fourth seed is 2007 NCAA qualifier Conor Beebe. Castillo is 24-5 this season, but three of those losses are to Iowa State’s Nick Fanthorpe. It’s doubtful this conference, with only 19 bids, no weight will take four and Beebe, who got in as an alternate last year, could be the odd man out. Castillo has a 5-2 win over Beebe and a 4-3 win over Clair but has been out of action the last few weeks in the wake of the campus shooting at NIU. Clair has a 1-0 win over Beebe, but didn’t face Mitcheff this season. Castillo’s pretty much a lock, but the 2-3 placers should merit heavy consideration for berths.
141 pounds More than likely a two-bid weight with Central Michigan’s Eric Kruger and Kent State’s Drew Lashaway. Both are ranked, Kruger 13th and Lashaway 17th and both have over 20 wins on the season. Lashaway should be the top seed by virtue of a 7-4 win over Kruger on Feb. 22. Ohio’s Germane Lindsey and Buffalo’s Andrew Stella have had decent seasons, while Northern Illinois’ Pat McLemore is also capable of pulling the upset, but Kruger and Lashaway are just a step above the rest of the field.
149 pounds Brandon Carter comes in with a 17-6 record and has four wins in conference and this could be the weight where only the champion goes. Following Carter is Buffalo’s Dana Gingerich, Kalen Knull of Northern Illinois, Clint Sponseller of Kent State and David Pienaar of Eastern Michigan. It’s pretty wide open to battle for the second, but unless someone upsets Carter, this could be the one weight where the runner-up doesn’t.
157 pounds Central Michigan has wrestled Steve Brown in the last few duals, but Trevor Stewart is, barring an unforeseen scratch, the guy for CMU. Eastern Michigan’s Cory Mancuso qualified under DelPorto when Mancuso was wrestling at Slippery Rock and has a shot at getting back to the dance. The rest of the weight in the conference is pretty thin, with Buffalo entering John Cummings, Northern Illinois with either Bryan Deutsch or Bryan O’Connor and Ohio with Clay Tucker.
165 pounds A weight where the top two are locks barring a collapse in the early rounds. Central Michigan’s Tyler Grayson has some solid wins this year but is overall inconsistent with some of his losses, while Kurt Gross’ return to the Kent State lineup has been a boon for the Golden Flashes. After wrestling only in opens for the first semester, Gross got his eligibility in line and has reeled off 13 straight wins since a January loss to Ohio’s Colt Sponseller. Ohio’s Clay Tucker and Buffalo’s Scott Rendos are game, but largely overmatched. Northern Illinois could enter one of three wrestlers, but Jesse Linczmaier is the probable.
174 pounds The top two are locks with a pair of nationally-ranked Brandon Sinnott of Central Michigan and Duke Burk of Northern Illinois. Sinnott is chasing a national title, while Burk has made a successful drop to 174 after qualifying at 184 pounds last year. Buffalo’s Mike Ragusa, Kent’s Chris Estep, Ohio’s Jacob Ison and Eastern Michigan’s Derek Foore fill out the weight. Ragusa has had good success this season coming in 27-12. Sinnott and Burk met back on Feb. 7 with Sinnott picking up a 4-2 win.
184 pounds Christian Sinnott, one of a number of fifth-year seniors on the CMU squad, is the heavy favorite in a weight that also features nationally ranked Eric Chine of Kent State. Buffalo’s Mickey Moran can play spoiler here should he knock off Chine in the semifinals (depending on seeding). It’s a two-bid weight and an upset could disrupt the balance across the board at all weights. Charlie Pienaar of Eastern Michigan could also play a factor, while Ohio freshman Erik Schuth is probably a year away from making a big splash nationally.
197 pounds Two-time All-American Wynn Michalak was one of Borrelli’s steals of the recruiting class. Michalak didn’t place last year and is two years removed from a top-seed at the NCAA championships, but with only one loss, the high scoring upper weight is set to make a title run. There isn’t much competition for Michalak, which makes this a weight were he might be the only qualifier. Jimmy Hamel of Buffalo, Michael Blackwell of Kent State, John McClure of Eastern Michigan, Jake Smith of Northern Illinois and Ohio’s Chris Immarino don’t have the stats to argue too much for a wildcard. Michalak should have zero trouble winning yet another MAC championship.
285 pounds All-American Bubba Gritter is a lock to go, as is Kent State’s Jermail Porter. After those two, it’s slim pickin’s for a wild-card contender, although Buffalo’s Jeff Parker has been around and could merit a wildcard, especially if he pulls an upset. David Benner of Northern Illinois, Jason Marshall of Ohio and David Wade of Eastern Michigan fill out the rest of the lot. Gritter and Porter are it, barring an upset.