The Cleveland State University wrestling team was coming off of a very successful regular season that saw them post a 9-6 record as a team. This was the team’s first winning record since the 2014-15 season where they went 7-3. This season saw the team grow under the tutelage of second-year head coach Josh Moore. After a very tough first season, Moore was happy with the progress that was made by the wrestlers and the help from the assistant coaches.
“The first year was definitely a learning year for me,” said Moore. “This season we were able to put a bigger emphasis on the development of our wrestlers. It was the first time that the program has ever had two full time assistant coaches, which was huge. Our assistant coaches, Boomer Fechko and Clint Musser, did a great job with planning the training schedules, implementing structure in new areas, increasing our film review with our student-athletes, and providing knowledge and insight to our student-athletes. I believe their efforts, as well as a strong showing from senior Evan Cheek, and our Freshman class made this year a success while finishing 9-6 overall.”
The only thing left for the team before the NCAA Championships was the Mid-American Conference (MAC) tournament. With 14 other teams vying for the NCAA automatic qualification bids, the Vikings had their work cut out for them. But the wrestlers were up for the task, as the team finished in seventh place, just six points behind Old Dominion University.
Moore was excited about the team’s output at the tournament and views the result that the team can hang with some of the best teams in the sport.
“It says a lot! We have taken the right steps in building a solid program that will continue to be competitive with some of the top programs in our conference, who are top 25 Nationally Ranked Programs,” Moore said. “Our guys have bought into being great teammates, helping each other, looking out for each other, and believing in each other. When teams can bond together and hold each other accountable, great things happen.”
Freshman Logan Heil got things started off on the right foot when he pinned the number two seeded Luke Werner from Lock Haven University to reach the semifinals at 125. Heil would go on to place sixth at the weight, being one of seven Vikings to finish on the podium for the tournament. Senior Justin Patrick and sophomore Ben Smith would place seventh at 133 pounds and 197 pounds respectively and sophomore Josh Kelbly would finish sixth at 285 pounds.
Freshmen Riley Smucker and DeAndre Nassar would suffer first-round losses at 165 pounds and 184 pounds respectively, but both would not be deterred after those losses. Nassar would go on to finish seventh after losing a hard-fought 8-6 match in the first round to the number one seed Trevor Allard from Bloomsburg University. After a first-round loss, Smucker recorded a tech fall and two decision wins to advance to the consolation semifinals. He would fall to Peyton Mocco of the University of Missouri but would get a 6-2 win over George Mason University’s Neil Schuster, avenging an earlier loss in the season.
But leading the way for the Vikings once again was senior 141 pounder Evan Cheek, who placed second at his weight. Cheek reached the finals on the strength of three straight decision wins, including a win against former All-American Sa’Derian Perry of Old Dominion. He would, however, fall to Dresden Simon of Central Michigan University in the championship match 6-1. Cheek’s second-place finish was good enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the second time in his career, and the only Viking to qualify for the tournament.
Cheek had high expectations to start his college career, including being an All-American by placing in the top eight at the NCAA Tournament. While two different coaching staffs and two different conferences weren’t what he was expecting, he is happy with what he was able to achieve.
“Starting my college career I had big goals and dreams ahead of me,” Cheek said. “The goal was to become an All-American. Although I didn’t get my last opportunity at becoming an All-American I feel that I still left a big mark in the program’s history. It was a cool experience going from two different coaching staffs and two different conferences and having the success I did dealing with both.”
Unfortunately, Cheek wouldn’t get the chance to pursue his goal of becoming an All-American, as the NCAA Championships were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. It joined the list of many sports being either postponed or canceled due to the pandemic, both amateur and pro sports alike.
“My first reaction to hearing the news was just how and why,” Cheek said. “Now that this coronavirus stuff has advanced and I see how serious the country is taking the situation I understand why the NCAA did what they did but it still hurts that I wasn’t able to achieve my ultimate goal of being an All-American, I fell short two years ago, but this one really hit me because we will never know what happened in the end.”
It wasn’t the end to his career that he was hoping for, but Cheek can look back at his career as one of the best to have donned the green and black singlet. Cheek finished his career as a two time NCAA Qualifier, a MAC runner up, an EWL Champion, and amassed 123 career wins in his five years representing the school on the mat.
When asked about his favorite moment in his career, it was between two options. One was a dual against defending national champions Ohio State University, where Cleveland State almost pulled the unthinkable upset. The other was the successful MAC tournament that the team competed at.
“My favorite moment in my five years at CSU is tied between two moments,” Cheek said. “The first being our dual against Ohio State my freshman year in Woodling Gym. We ended up losing the dual by one match and the environment was electric as it was a hard-fought match going back and forth! My other favorite moment has to be the MAC conference championship this year. It was amazing to see how far this team has come going from being almost last in the EWL at the beginning of my career to being in the top half of the MAC conference. Seeing 7 kids place in a tougher conference where last year we had one placer. Without the coronavirus this season was amazing and I just want to thank Cleveland state for all the opportunities they presented me with!”