WITH VIDEO: Freshman earning his stripes, Ottinger contributing early for wrestling team
Close matches are nothing new for freshman Mike Ottinger.
Thirteen of his matches this season have been decided by two or fewer points and he is 9-4 in those matches. It’s a record which shows maturity for a freshman, a record which does not go unnoticed by wrestling head coach Tom Borrelli.
“I think he has done really well,” Borrelli said. “It’s a real big transition to Division I athletics from high school. Mike only won one state championship and most of our guys are multiple-time state champions. So for him to come in here with not as big of high school credentials as some of the guys and have the success he has had, it really speaks to his toughness.”
That toughness allowed him to grind out many close matches and wear down his opponents.
Down 11-8 on Jan. 27 against No.14 Lehigh, Ottinger had a chance to tie or put CMU ahead in his match at 165-pounds weight class.
He trailed 2-1 in the third period before he scored the lone takedown in the bout with less than a minute remaining. The crowd responded with roaring applause as he won the match to tie the dual meet at 11.
“I’ve been in a lot of those matches in high school — real close matches,” Ottinger said. “It meant a lot because Lehigh is near my house and my dad went there so it was definitely nice to win that one.”
The win improved his record to 15-6 on the season, and proved to his teammates and coaching staff that he was having no trouble adjusting to college wrestling.
Since the Lehigh match he is 3-2, but boasts an impressive 18-8 record. He has defeated two ranked opponents this season, No. 16 Dan Yates of Michigan and No. 20 Mark Lewandowski of Buffalo. He also went 4-0 in Mid-American Conference dual meets.
“I think I’m doing pretty good,” Ottinger said. “I’m listening to my coaches and just working hard in practice and things are kind of falling together for me.”
Coming out of high school, Ottinger had three schools to choose from. He could either stay in his home state of Pennsylvania and enroll at Edinboro or Lock Haven, or come to CMU.
He chose CMU, because of Borrelli and his coaching staff.
“I just liked the team better and the coaches — especially Borrelli,” Ottinger said. “A lot of coaches are negative on their guys, but with Borrelli, if something bad happened, he would still be in the corner clapping for me.”
But he was unsure if he would be inserted into the starting lineup right away.
“At first I was a little nervous about getting in the lineup right away,” Ottinger said. “Coach (Borrelli) talked to me and said there’s no pressure, just go out and wrestle hard. As much as technique and all that is important, he’s kept my mind straight and kept me staying positive.”
Despite signing late to CMU, Ottinger’s teammates and coaches made his transition less strenuous.
Fellow freshman Zach Horan, who is also from Pennsylvania, played a major role in helping Ottinger adjust.
“When I first came here, I was a little bit behind because I signed real late,” Ottinger said. “The only guy I knew a little bit was Zach Horan. He helped me out mentally and told me I can do it and said since I had success in high school, I can do it here too.”
Conditioned for success
Junior Ben Bennett said he believes Ottinger’s work ethic has translated into success on the mat.
“When he works out, you can see he works out hard,” Bennett said. “He has really good conditioning. I think it’s hard for guys to keep up with him and I think that’s been a real big factor.”
Ottinger can attribute part of his conditioning to playing soccer in high school. He said it made his legs stronger and kept him in shape.
But soccer was always on the backburner for him. Wrestling gave him individual satisfaction that soccer could not.
“I just like the feeling of winning,” he said. “Just knowing that you did it yourself feels so good.”
With the MAC and NCAA tournaments approaching quickly, Ottinger will be under the most pressure he has endured this season.
Because of his work ethic and wrestling style, Borrelli said he believes Ottinger will be able to adjust to the big stage just like he did earlier this year when he was trying to prove himself.
“He is very good on his feet defensively,” Borrelli said. “He’s real hard to score on. He keeps pressing the action and he’s pretty competent on top, too.”