By Ben Hercik
After getting their season off to a 2-0 start, the Cleveland State University wrestling team began the Mid American Conference (MAC) portion of its schedule. The team had its first ever MAC dual against the University of Buffalo on Dec. 6.
After winning two of the first three matches, the Vikings would drop the next three matches to be down 14-10 in the team score. Sophomores Chase Archangelo and Ben Smith would get the Vikings back into the match, making the score 17-16 going into the heavyweight match. Sophomore John Kelbly would answer the call, winning his match and securing Cleveland States first-ever MAC win 19-17. Kelbly saw the victory as a confidence booster in his first full season as a heavyweight.
“It was a really big moment because it gave me a lot of confidence,” Kelbly said. “Before then, I had been kind of back and forth in the season, and knowing that I can go out there at heavyweight and compete against those guys that are from bigger programs was really a big confidence builder for me.”
The team wouldn’t have to wait long for their second MAC win, as they would defeat George Mason University 22-14 on Dec. 20 with another come from behind win. After the first seven bouts, the Patriots took a 14-10 lead, but freshman DeAndre Nassar tied the match up at 14 after recording a major decision. It would once again come down to Smith and Kelbly to finish the job for the Vikings, which they would do to move the Vikings to 4-0 on the season.
When the calendar turned to 2020, the wrestlers found themselves in Chattanooga, Tennessee to compete in the Southern Scuffle. While nine wrestlers would win matches in the tournament, this served as a wake up call for the team as they finished 22nd out of 27 teams in the tournament. The Vikings would not be left off of the podium as senior Evan Cheek finished in seventh place at 141 pounds. After going 2-1 on the first day, Cheek defeated Grant Willits of Oregon State University to guarantee himself a spot on the podium for the second time in his career. Cheek takes a lot of pride in being able to represent Cleveland State at such a high level.
“It’s pretty awesome placing at the Southern Scuffle twice,” Cheek said. “It’s cool to get the name out there and make people realize that Cleveland State is on the up and that we have good stuff going on here. We’re a powerful division 1 program.”
Cleveland State suffered their first loss of the season when they lost to Clarion University as a part of a quad dual. Down 18-6 after five matches, freshman Riley Smucker, Archangelo and Nassar would rattle off three straight wins to pull the score to within three, but the team wasn’t able to finish the job. The loss wouldn’t deter the Vikings as they would win two other matches over California Baptist University and Virginia Military Institute to push their record to 6-1 on the season.
Cleveland State would return home when they took on Ohio University on Jan. 18. The Vikings fell behind early again and needed to rally from being behind in the dual 7-3 after the first three matches. The team was game to give it a try, but it was just too much to overcome. They dropped close matches at 174, 184, 197 and heavyweight, which sealed the dual for the Bobcats. Cleveland State won the final three matches with Cheek finishing the dual and avenging an early season loss to Shakur Laney. Despite the road bumps, head coach Josh Moore remains excited about how the team has performed this year.
“We wrestle these teams for a reason,” Moore said. “We want to wrestle the best competition and show our guys that we’re working hard, we’re having a good result but were not quite there yet. We have to continue to keep pushing and doing the right things, and let’s try to catch these guys by the end of the year.”