A rough ending to a rugged regular season.
That, in a nutshell, effectively sums up the thorough 32-9 setback the injury-ravaged Kent State wrestling team was handed by a strong and healthy Central Michigan squad Sunday afternoon at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.
The preseason MAC favorite Golden Flashes (12-9, 2-3 MAC), wrestling without roughly six competitors who either have started or were expected to be in the starting lineup this season, won just three matches against the 21st-ranked Chippewas (10-3-1, 3-1).
And that fact really didn't surprise Kent State coach Frank Romano.
"Central Michigan is real tough," said Romano. "We just wanted to wrestle through this and now we'll try to pull together and get the best team possible ready for the MAC Tournament. We're missing so many starters, I can't even count them all ... something like six. It's been a rough year."
Casualties include Steve Daugherty (Ravenna H.S., injured), Joe Boardwine (Streetsboro H.S., health concerns), Jason Lara (Ravenna H.S., mono/quit school), and Ryan Muldrew (injured) along with new additions Mark Wentz (Streetsboro, concussion) and John Moore (broken ankle), who were injured over the weekend.
Rough year? You bet.
And Romano's patched together lineup really had no chance against the powerful Chippewas.
Freshman Brent Thompson (Walsh Jesuit H.S.) did get the Flashes off to a flying start by knocking off Davon Gray, the top-ranked 118-pound wrestler in the MAC. Thompson scored a takedown and two escapes in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and claim an impressive 7-5 victory.
"Thompson has been wrestling much better of late," said Romano. "That's very encouraging."
Jay Vesperman put the Chippewas ahead to stay by earning a major decision over Kent State's Joe DiMichele, subbing for Wentz at 126. And Greg Mayer won the 134-pound match by default when Kent State's Rick Charlton couldn't continue due to a shoulder injury.
The highlight of the match was the 142-pound bout between Central Michigan's Casey Cunningham, ranked No. 2 in the nation, and 19th-ranked Brian Singleton of Kent State.
After a scoreless first period, Cunningham earned an escape to start the second period and immediately shot at Singleton. He gained control and was awarded a controversial takedown as the two rolled out of bounds to take a 3-0 lead.
The former Crestwood High School star trimmed the deficit to 3-2 with a pair of escapes, and gained control of Cunningham's leg several times in the final period. But he couldn't finish him off, and Cunningham survived.
Despite the loss, Singleton was oozing with confidence afterward.
"He's ranked No. 2 and I could have wrestled better," said Singleton. "I started to move very well in the third period. I don't like to lose, but this match really doesn't matter. All that matters is placing at nationals in four weeks, and I like where I am right now. I'm ready to roll."
Former Southeast star Keith Shamblin, the MAC's top-ranked 150 pounder, bounced back from an upset loss to Ohio's Adam Whitlach last Friday by defeating CMU's Vernon Cannon. After falling behind 2-0 early, Shamblin scored takedowns in the second and third periods to win 7-3.
But the Chippewas then took control by winning the next three matches.
Ryan Cunningham, ranked eighth in the country, scored a major decision over Kent State's Jack Hageman at 158. Ed Hamway pushed the Chippewas' Chris Snyder (18th in the country) to the limit before losing 6-5. Then Mike Greenfield, ranked sixth in the country, bulled over the Flashes' Cliff Andres in the closing seconds and pinned him in what had been a close match throughout.
Former Aurora star Dave Kotora earned Kent State's third and final victory, a 9-4 decision over Chris Vike, before Rollie Ferris pinned Flashes' freshman Jeremy Orsky in 2:32 in the closing match.
Romano's Flashes now have two weeks to get ready (healthy) for the MAC Championships, which they will host March 7-8.
"That's what we're pointing to," said Romano. "The kids are upbeat and we're practicing real hard. I think we'll be fine."