I was excited to see WIN's (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine) individual and team rankings this year when they came out. I had a good feeling about my CMU Chippewas, who over the last couple years have been fighting to get back to the top of the MAC mountain. Since Missouri and Northern Iowa have joined the already tough MAC, the Chippewas have struggled to win either the regular season Championship, or the Tournament Championship. The Chippewas had dominated the MAC beforehand, consecutively winning 15 or so MAC Championships. Either way, this years squad is returning a combination of young talent, and seasoned vets to help them get back to the top of the MAC, and blow out the 39th ranking that WIN gave them in this pre seasons rankings. Here is how!
Lets start with the Chippewas stud from last season, Zach Horan. He had another spectacular season, winning the MAC tournament over two All Americans, Chris Mecate of Old Dominion (and the owner of the worst hair in College Wrestling. It's truly stupid looking), and Lavion Mayes (Missouri). Despite having won the MAC Championship, the NCAA seeding committee decided that they would seed him lower than both wrestlers he had beaten a couple of days before. Ultimately his season ended in dissapointment when he wasn't an All American, but his talent and big wins can't be ignored. He is entering his senior season where he will most certainly have a sense of urgency greater than years past to achieve his individual and team goals. Horan's big wins last year were over Mecate and Mayes, and he had some close loses to Mitchell Port of Edinboro, and Anthony Abidin of Nebraska.
CMU's next monster is Mike Ottinger, who is returning to the lineup after taking a red shirt last season. Ottinger started his career at CMU at 165 pounds, before bumping up to 174 his Junior season. Many wrestlers struggle when bumping up weight classes, but Mike appeared more comfortable at the higher weight. It must be difficult for many wrestlers to adapt to Ottinger, partially because he appears to be 5'2" and 174 pounds of pure muscle and tenacity. Mike placed 3rd at the MAC tournament his Junior year, losing in the semis to Cody Walters of Ohio, a loss he avenged at the NCAA tournament a couple weeks later. Point being, Ottinger is returning and should be fresh going into the season, and entering a weight class that graduated 5 of the top 6 guys, and 7 of the top 12. WIN doesn't have him ranked, but WIN also stated that Gabe Dean (who isn't returning) was a returning champ at 165 (despite wrestling at 184 his entire college career), so they clearly don't know what they are talking about.
The Chippewas third NCAA Qualifier is Lucas Smith. Like Ottinger, Smith took a red shirt season last year after being injured early in the season. The year before he placed 2nd to Ian Miller of Kent State (who placed 4th at NCAA's) at the MAC tournament. I believe he will be bumping up from 157 to 165 this season, which I believe will be good for his style. He seems to wrestle a slower style, and enjoys working from the two on one, which I believe will help him adapt at the higher weight. At his last NCAA tournament, his only two losses were to Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin (he's alright), and the defending NCAA Champ, Derek St. John. Along the way, he knocked off Dylan Alton of Penn State, who had recently placed 3rd in the country. Luke Smith is also entering his senior season, and looking forward to a beast mode finish for himself and the Chippewas.
Luke's replacement at 157 appears to be Colin Heffernan, Central's 149 pound wrestler from last season. Wait, he's a 4th returning NCAA Qualifier, doesn't seem like a team with 38 better teams than they are to me. Regardless, let's keep moving. Heffernan was 24-14 last year, and upset Iowa State's Gabe Moreno in the first round of the tournament. He was a highly recruited wrestler out of Ohio's St. Edwards powerhouse of High School Wrestling. He was able to show some flashes of brilliance throughout the season, and continues to wrestle and improve. He wrestled in University Nationals getting a big win over Michigan's Alec Pantaleo, which shows me that he continues to develop and grow towards his potential.
Yet another returning NCAA Qualifier, Junior Corey Keener. Keener was ranked top 15 two years ago at 125, and ended up with a shoulder injury which held him out last season. He showed an exceptional amount of talent two years ago though, having done as well as defeating the 7th ranked wrestler in the country. He ended up with an injury that season as well, but gutted it out, ultimately making it to the NCAA tournament. I was curious to see how he was going to return this year, and my first time watching him again was at University Nationals. I figured he could be a sleeper, but part of me thought it was a homer pick. It still may have been, but it turned out to be a good pick. Keener lost was to eventual champion, and former Olympic Training Center resident, Earl Hall in the semi finals. Keener is finally healthy, and it must be nice to be back on the mats for him. I'm looking forward to an exceptional year from a great talent.
Brent Fleetwood, Delaware's finest, is returning at 125 for the Chips. He was a monster in High School, and not just for Delaware standards, where he was the 10th wrestler to win 4 State Titles. He also won a Cadet Freestyle National Championship, and won or placed highly in a variety of other National Tournaments. Last year as a true freshman he went 14-14, but showed plenty of progress. He is a monster on top, and as long as he can sure up his offense on his feet, he will be a total force in the MAC, where he placed 4th as a true freshman last year.
149 is going to be a battle for the Chippewas between two exceptionally talented wrestlers. Cody LeCount, last years starter at 157 appears to be dropping down to 149 for the Chippewas. He placed 4th at the MAC Championships in what was a very difficult MAC weight class. Additionally, he placed 5th at the MSU Open with a 5-1 record. LeCount was also a standout wrestler in High School, losing only two matches to 183 wins. Also at 149, was last years red shirt Freshman of the year, Justin Oliver. Coming out of Davison Michigan, where he placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the State throughout his career. It will be interesting to see which of these two standouts can put everything together and get the starting spot, but either of them will be able to hit the ground running at 149. LeCount went 24-11 at 157, which he appears to have been undersized for, so I expect him to take this spot.
Austin Severn is returning to start at 184 in his Junior year. Severn finished 14-13 last year, but is certainly talented enough to show much more improvement. The nephew of Dan the Beast Severn, and someone who beat Gabe Dean their Senior years of High School, certainly has the ability and grit to continue to improve and have a huge year. Austin placed 4th in the MAC last year, but has what it takes to continue to develop into a much stronger competitor at 184 for the Chippewas.
Our final two weight classes include Seniors who are looking to finish off their careers on high notes. At 197, we have Jackson Lewis, who has held that starting spot for the majority of the last 3 seasons. He split some time last year with Jimmy Szep, but I am assuming will come away with the spot later this fall. He has had a solid career at CMU, and will be looking to finish strong and help the Chippewas get back to the top of the mountain.
At Heavyweight, we have the two headed Monster of Adam Robinson, the Senior who transferred from nearby Alma College a couple years back, and Newton Smerchek who is entering his red shirt Sophomore year. Robinson is another one of the Chippewas Seniors looking for a Championship before he leaves, while Smerchek is looking to solidify himself as the starter. Either way, you have two very capable and motivated wrestlers at Heavyweight who will be rounding out (no pun intended, you know, because Heavyweights are round) this solid Chippewa lineup.
As a CMU Alumni, and someone who attended Central during their most recent peak, it is great to look at their current lineup and know that they can get back what was theirs so many years in a row, the MAC crown. Nobody is better suited to motivate and coach these student athletes better than the immortal Tom Borrelli. He has been the Chippewas coach each of the last 24 seasons, and won MAC titles in the following years... 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013 and the MAC Championships titles in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
If you have a chance, I strongly recommend checking out his coaches profile on CMU's website. It isn't short on accolades and impressive stats. Probably most impressive is the number of coaches that have come from the CMU program that he has helped establish as a consistent force over the last 2+ decades. This year is going to be a great year for the Chips, and if I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times, FIRE UP CHIPS!!!