A fitting farewell: Seniors win final wrestling matches at McGuirk Arena
Seniors Corey Keener and Austin Severn walked off the mat at McGuirk Arena for the last time as winners Sunday.
During the last five years, Keener and Severn have had to fight their way into Central Michigan’s starting lineup.
Now, the two of them are the captains on a team that is ranked No. 15 in the nation and has not lost a dual match since Jan. 22, including Sunday’s 40-3 victory against Kent State on senior day.
Keener sits at 17-10 this season and 55-36 overall. He has qualified for the NCAA championships twice, has been named Academic All-MAC and Academic All-American his junior year.
Severn is 64-40 in his career. He sits at 21-7 this season and is ranked No. 16 in the nation at 197 pounds in his first year in the starting lineup. He was also named to the MAC All-Academic team his sophomore year.
The Chippewas recognized four seniors in total before the match. Keener and Severn as well as fellow seniors Mitch Hyrnak and Jordan Wohlfert each received a CMU wrestling plaque for their contributions to the team while their parents stood beside them.
Keener’s match was anti-climactic because he had to settle for an uncontested victory due to Kent State not having a wrestler in the 133-pound weight class.
“It’s unfortunate being my last time wrestling in (McGuirk)," Keener said. "It is what it is. It’s nice to get a win and get six points for the team.”
CMU led Kent State 34-0. Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” played in McGuirk for the last time. Severn was matched up with Stephen Suglio, who carried a 19-14 record heading into the match.
Severn was slow to start in the first period but ultimately earned a pinfall victory late in the second period. McGuirk erupted, like it has for nearly all of his home victories this season.
“I had a slow start, but I got things moving,” Severn said. “I just felt good in the second when I got loosened up. It’s a lot more fun to get a pin in McGuirk than in other places."
Head coach Tom Borrelli said it's always difficult to say goodbye to wrestlers he's seen grown during their time as Chippewas — Keener and Severn were no exceptions.
“They’ve meant a lot to our program the last five years,” Borrelli said. “Anytime you spend five years with someone — through all the ups and downs, hard times and good times — it’s hard to see them go.”
Recruiting the two was half the battle.
Coming to Central
For Keener, there was already an advantage. The Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, native and District 11 standout had already known former CMU wrestlers Mike Ottinger and Zach Horan, who were also from Pennsylvania.
“I traveled a lot with Zach when I was younger," Keener said. "The campus wasn’t overwhelming when I visited. Coach Borrelli really sold me as a down-to-earth guy.”
Borrelli knew bringing in Keener — the district's all-time leader in career wins— would be a steal.
"He broke a lot of records that were held by very accomplished college wrestlers like Jordan Oliver — two-time All American at Oklahoma State — it was interesting that he showed interest in Central Michigan,” Borrelli said.
For Austin Severn, the reason for choosing CMU was easy — he wanted to wrestle for Borrelli.
“Everything he stands for and his values hit home for me,” Severn said.
One match against one of the biggest names in the nation put Severn on Borrelli's radar.
“Austin’s win over Gabe Dean — two-time National Champion at Cornell — his senior year is what peaked my interest,” Borrelli said. “I ended up going to New Lothrop to see him wrestle. I saw their rematch, we started recruiting him from there.”
Both Keener's and Severn's parents were in attendance Sunday.
Keener’s father, Gary, said he has a lot of pride in his son’s accomplishments in the past five years.
“It’s amazing that some of these guys, (Corey) included, can wrestle for five years,” said Gary. “It’s like everyone thinks football, the NFL. This is these guy’s NFL or NBA. There’s nothing higher than college Division I wrestling.”
Severn’s parents, Rod and Debbie, said they were also proud of the way their son has grown into a leader for the Chippewas.
“It’s a real sense of pride,” Rod said. “He’s already graduated, he got his degree in December. His academic grades are excellent. Doing that along with competing at this high of a level is really an honor. He’s a good young man.”
Debbie Severn shared Rod's sentiments.
“It’s been a long five years,” she said. “(Wrestling is) a hard sport to watch, a lot of hard work and dedication he's put in. I couldn’t be any prouder.”
When asked what their legacies will be when their season finishes in March, both wrestlers said they hope to be remembered as people who gave everything they had to the program.
“Hopefully when people look back at me wrestling, they will think of exciting matches, trying to score points, exciting the crowd and bringing them back to matches,” Keener said.
Severn said he'd let his effort determine how he would be remembered.
“I’m not sure, you’d have to ask other people,” Severn said. “I guess that I worked hard and tried to lead by example.”