Brian Singleton and Brent Thompson spent Sunday afternoon pulling off the two most stunning upsets of the Mid-American Conference Wrestling Championships. And that's an astonishing feat, considering the fact that merely one year ago they weren't spending a single shred of time on the mat.
But oh, what a difference a year makes.
Both Kent State grapplers have now officially stormed back onto the collegiate wrestling scene this season, having claimed individual conference crowns in breathtaking, spine-tingling fashion at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center Sunday.
Thompson (118 pounds) nipped No. 1 seed Davon Gray of Central Michigan 8-7 in the first title bout. Then Singleton (142) dethroned two-time defending MAC champion Casey Cunningham of CMU _ ranked second in the nation and voted MAC Wrestler of the Year before the tournament _ 7-5 in overtime to finally give the hard-luck Golden Flashes something to cheer about.
"Those were the highlights, two very exciting matches," said coach Frank Romano, whose Flashes finished fourth with 47 points behind Miami (54), Ohio (65) and runaway winner Central Michigan (116). "It was great to finally have something go our way, and it's great to have two guys going to nationals. Especially two guys that will both be back next year."
Singleton (Crestwood High School), who missed all of last year due to a military commitment (Army Reserves), scored an early takedown but fell behind 4-2 in the third period after getting called for a head butt and stalling. He recovered to force overtime by scoring a reversal literally as regulation time expired.
In the extra session, Cunningham shot and secured a leg. But the hold was low and loose, allowing Singleton to counter with a whizzer, sprawl out of it, kick his leg loose and spin around behind Cunningham putting himself in position to score the winning takedown as his sizable entourage went wild.
"He had a loose hold on my leg, so I knew I had a good chance to get around him," said Singleton, a junior who claimed his second MAC crown. "Maybe I couldn't have done that in the first period, but I knew he'd be tired in overtime.
"This was nice, and the crowd was great. But this isn't the highlight for me. Nationals are really all that matters."
Meanwhile, Thompson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury early in his rookie campaign a year ago, engaged in a thrilling see-saw battle with Gray.
The lead changed hands three times before Thompson executed the winning takedown with 45 seconds left in the match. He then rode Gray out to secure a victory that helped him earn co-MAC Freshman of the Year honors.
Thompson is the first wrestler in Kent State history to receive the award.
"To win MACs as a freshman is awesome," said the former Walsh Jesuit High School star. "I knew it would be tough. He kept his stance low, so I had a hard time shooting. It all comes down to a lot of luck and a lot of preparation ... I'm in better shape and that may have been the difference."
Teammates Cliff Andres (177) and Dave Kotora (190) each pulled off mild upsets of their own to win their consolation finals matches and claim third place.
Unseeded Andres (senior) scored a third-period takedown to knock off No. 2 seed Brendan Courtot of Ohio 4-3, and No. 3 seed Kotora (junior, Aurora) used a third-period reversal to nip No. 2 seed Dan Bednar of Ohio 2-1.
Junior Ed Hamway also finished third at 167 for the Flashes, while junior Rick Charlton (134), sophomore Jack Hageman (158) and freshman Jeremy Orsky (Hwt.) each took fourth.
"We only started two seniors, so we had a pretty good tournament," said Romano. "At the beginning of the year, fourth place would have been a disappointment. But we've had a lot of injuries and unforeseen circumstances come up, so fourth doesn't seem so bad. I'm very encouraged."
Former Aurora star Tim Courtad earned his first trip to the NCAA Championships by defeating Central Michigan's Rollie Ferris in the heavyweight title bout. The junior from Miami led 2-1 late, then scored a third-period takedown to the secure a 5-1 victory.
The Chippewas garnered three individual titles and added seven runner-up finishes to rack up a MAC Championships-record 116 points. Jay Vesperman (126), Chris Snyder (167) and Mike Greenfield (177) finished first for CMU, while teammates Greg Mayer (134), Casey Cunningham (142), Ryan Cunningham (158) and Chris Vike (190) each took second and earned wild card berths to the NCAA Championships along with Ryan Egan (126) of Northern Illinois.
Dwight Gardner of Ohio won the 158-pound championship and was selected the tournament's outstanding wrestler, while teammate Shawn Enright won the 134-pound title and Jeremy Goeden of Northern Illinois captured the 190-pound crown.
Individual winners and the five wild card selections will now move on to the NCAA Championships, which will be held March 19-21 at the CSU Convocation Center in Cleveland.