April 18, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The 2011-12 Michigan State wrestling season didn't go as planned for head coach Tom Minkel, his staff and the 31 wrestlers on the roster. Multiple injuries throughout the season and young wrestlers in the lineup cost Michigan State in the Big Ten, the toughest wrestling conference in the county.
The Spartans compiled a 3-11 dual record but were able to send six wrestlers to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis. Experience garnered by underclassmen in the lineup and three wrestlers returning next season with NCAA Championship experience should bode well for the Spartans.
"I think it was a great experience for all six guys that went," head coach Tom Minkel said of the NCAA Championships. "The NCAA Tournament is a marvelous event. I've coached at the World Championships, at the Pan Am Games and at the Olympic Games, and out of all those events, the NCAAs is the best."
The biggest loss of the season for MSU came when senior 197-pounder Tyler Dickenson tore his ACL at the Reno Tournament of Champions on Dec. 18. Dickenson, who qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2011, initially attempted a comeback but was unfortunately sidelined for the season.
"It was crushing for him, and very hard for our team," Minkel said. "Tyler really is one of the leaders of this team and I don't think anybody could have worked any harder than he did. He gave everything he had and was on track to have a stellar senior year. We felt terrible for Tyler and it was very unfortunate."
Head coach Tom Minkel said at the beginning of the season that Dickenson was a national title contender, and he was ranked as high as No. 12 in the nation at 197 pounds by InterMat. The fifth-year senior was a four-year starter at MSU and finished his career with a 57-56 record. For his hard work and dedication this season, Dickenson was recognized with the "Commitment Award" at the season-ending banquet, which was held April 15 at the Kellogg Center on the campus of MSU.
David Cheza and Anthony Jones Jr. both sat out the majority of last season with injuries and each played significant roles in the middle of the Spartan lineup this year. In the beginning of the season they split time at 157 and 165 pounds before Jones settled into the starting role at 157 and Cheza at 165.
Minkel said multiple times during the season that both were essentially 157 pounders and that Cheza made the jump up a class to benefit the team. Cheza was recognized with the "Perseverance Award" at the banquet.
Even though a senior, Cheza has applied for a sixth year of eligibility since he has lost two seasons due to injury. Minkel and the coaching staff are optimistic that he will acquire an extra year of eligibility.
"Having him back will be huge for the team," Minkel said of Cheza. "From a leadership standpoint and from his credentials, his ability to compete and do well, we just hope it all works out."
Despite an adverse year for the entire Michigan State team, they still managed to qualify six wrestlers for the NCAA Championships in St. Louis. Dan Osterman (149), Anthony Jones Jr. (157), David Cheza (165), Curran Jacobs (174), Ian Hinton (184) and Steve Andrus (heavyweight) each made the trip to nationals. Jacobs led the team with 27 wins and went 3-2 at NCAAs, one win shy of becoming an All-American.
For seniors Jones, Jacobs and Hinton, making one last trip to the NCAA Championships meant a lot.
"It is the capstone on your career," Minkel said. "Everyone's objective is to finish as an All-American or as a National Champion. We didn't do that, but we were close. Curran (Jacobs) was an overtime match away from being an All-American and that was heart breaking for him."
At the team awards banquet, Jacobs received multiple awards for his efforts in his senior season. He was recognized as the "Most Exciting Wrester," and also earned the "Grady Peninger Scholastic Achievement Award" and the "Collins-Mikles Leadership Award."
Jacobs made his second straight trip to nationals this season and placed eighth at the Big Ten Championships. He lost a close 3-1 decision to Nick Heflin of Ohio State in session four of the NCAA Championships and finished his senior season 27-13.
"Curran wasn't a credentialed high school athlete," Minkel said of his growth as a Spartan. "He came in and wasn't even sure he was going to wrestle in college. He has a great work ethic, is a very athletic young man and is very committed to Michigan State and his team. He had a marvelous career here. He's fun to coach, he's fun to be around and he brought a lot to the team that we haven't had before."
Anthony Jones Jr., a senior at 157 pounds, had the most consistent season for Michigan State and earned a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Championships after finishing fourth at the Big Ten Championships. Jones finished with a 22-10 record and went 1-2 at the NCAA Championships. He was named "Outstanding Wrestler" and shared the "Collins-Mikles Leadership Award" with Jacobs at the awards banquet.
"Anthony had a pretty bad draw," Minkel said. "He ran into some guys that were a couple of the best guys in the weight class and lost to both of them. Both were very close matches."
Jones started off his NCAAs with a 5-2 win over Albert White of Oklahoma State before falling to familiar foe Dylan Alton of Penn State, 2-1, with riding time being the deciding point. In session three, Jones lost to Walter Peppelman of Harvard, 5-2, ending his senior season.
"Anthony was one of our quieter wrestlers, but at the same time he is a part of the leadership on this team," Minkel said. "He leads by example and he is just a quality young man. For him to get back to the NCAAs and wrestle as well as he did is a real credit to him and his family. We were happy to have him there and he certainly gave everything that he had."
Senior Ian Hinton made his third career trip to NCAAs this past season and it was his first at 184 pounds. Hinton took sixth at the Big Ten Championships and finished 21-15 on the season.
"Ian had some struggles this year, but most of us did," Minkel said. "He is very competitive and very hard working and I think anytime he stepped on the mat you got his very best. He really anchored our upper weights for many years here. You could really count on him to be in every match."
Younger wrestlers will look to fill the void of five departing seniors from this team leading into next season.
"A lot of our young kids got very valuable experience this year, in the NCAAs and at the Big Ten Championships," Minkel said. "That will certainly be important to us next year."
Minkel said that the experience for young guys in the lineup will be important for next season. Brandon Fifield and Brian Gibbs, both freshmen this season, were in the lineup consistently at 133 pounds, and gained familiarity with Big Ten opponents.
Nick Proctor and Nick McDiarmid shared the award for "Outstanding Freshman." McDiarmid filled in for Dickenson at 197 pounds and finished 20-14 on the season. Proctor went 20-5 at 165 pounds and should make a push to be in the starting lineup next season.
The biggest contribution next year may come from freshman Roger Wildmo, who redshirted this season and went 28-6 in open competition with 15 falls on the season. At the team awards banquet, Wildmo was recognized for the most falls on the season.
"There is no question that he is a big time kid for us," Minkel said. "He had a good red-shirt year and got in a lot of matches. He has a marvelous work ethic, is a great student, a terrific young man and is very focused on being as good as he can be. There is no question he will have a stellar career here and we are looking forward to that."
Osterman had an up and down season and finished with an overall record of 25-17 and placed ninth at the Big Ten Championships. Despite having a tumultuous season, he was still able to qualify for his second consecutive NCAA Championships.
"Danny, with the coaching staff, will have to look back on the season and go back to the drawing board and try to turn the ship around," Minkel said. "I'm confident that he will do that, he is a resilient kid. I know he is frustrated, we are all frustrated for him, but the only way to fix that problem is to go back to work."
Michigan State has all three heavyweight wrestlers returning next season, and could be the brightest spot of the MSU lineup. Along with Andrus, Joe Rizqallah and Michael McClure will be back to form one of the strongest heavyweight groups in the country.
Rizqallah qualified for NCAAs last season and McClure was ranked as high as No. 10 earlier this season. Recently, Andrus was selected to compete in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for a shot at the Olympics in the Greco-Roman division.
"Even though they are competing against each other they are still good friends and work hard," Minkel said. "There is no question that the heights that anyone of them reaches will be because of the other two."
This season was tough on the entire team but hard work and perseverance were the mantra for this group. Minkel looked forward to off-season work outs as a way to start next season in the right direction.
"We have to not accept this as being OK," Minkel said. "We can't wait for some other time to go to work. We have to go to work right now and as a group. I have encouraged the leaders on this team to make sure that everyone is a part of the effort. As a group, if we really buckle down, we can turn things around. Our mission is to get everyone on board, improve our off-season training and our work ethic. If we do that, then we will be fine."