It’s but a piece of round wood to most people, but when the University of Akron faces Kent State at Dix Stadium at 2 p.m. Saturday, the prize of the game — the revered wagon wheel — will be up for grabs for the 42nd time in the 55 times the teams have played each other.
The records are almost opposite with the Zips (1-8, 0-5 Mid-American Conference) enduring another tough season and the Golden Flashes (7-1, 4-0) attracting national attention after beating undefeated, 18th-ranked Rutgers last week.
But the records don’t matter, it’s a rivalry game. The Zips have remained upbeat and they remain focused on the job ahead of them.
Nose guard Cody Grice said he didn’t expect anything less.
A Firestone graduate, Grice recognizes what the game means to what he calls the real 330, the city of Akron.
“I kind of look at it as how the Falcons and the [Buchtel] Griffins used to go at it,” he said after Thursday morning’s practice.
That’s one of the most unusual aspects of the rivalry — the proximity of the schools to one another.
It’s something that fifth-year senior linebacker Kurt Mangum took from this week’s preparations.
“It’s the first time I’ve played in a rivalry where the schools have been this close,” he said. “I’m not from Ohio, but for some guys on the team, they could be playing their next-door neighbor. Houses are divided between Kent State and Akron, so it’s a huge deal.”
Grice said that’s one of the reasons winning is so important.
“They could come to our backyard today and talk trash to us. This is for bragging rights and we have to get that wheel back,” he said.
Starting running back Jawon Chisholm (124 attempts, 688 yards, 2 touchdowns) should be ready to go against the Flashes, UA coach Terry Bowden said.
Defensive tackle Nico Caponi (sprained ankle) was in pads Thursday and he and fellow lineman Albert Presley (fractured fibula) worked out on a limited basis. They are listed as day-to-day.
This is the second year of the PNC Wagon Wheel Challenge, which includes competition between 15 of the two schools’ varsity sports. UA leads the 2012-13 standings 2.5-1.0 (KSU won 9-6 in 2011-12). For more information or to follow updated standings, visit WagonWheelChallenge.com.
There isn’t much to dislike about what the UA freshmen did against Tiffin on Wednesday night at Rhodes Arena.
All four — Pat Forsythe, who led the team in scoring, Carmelo Betancourt, Jake Kretzer and Reggie McAdams — received extensive playing time. Forsythe and Betancourt are beginning to become familiar names, but Kretzer and McAdams are still trying to make an impression.
Zips coach Keith Dambrot likes what he sees thus far from Kretzer and McAdams. Kretzer scored nine points and had five rebounds and McAdams scored 14 points, including 4-of-8 from behind the 3-point line, so what’s not to like?
Kretzer, a 6-foot-7 forward, can go toe-to-toe with the likes of forward Demetrius Treadwell, but offers flexibility as well.
“He can go way out and shoot it,” Dambrot said. “So now that gives you that pick-and-pop guy that we haven’t had, so we have to find time for him, too.”
He’s equally impressed with McAdams.
“He’s skilled,” Dambrot said. “If he’s open, you think every shot is going in.”
UA women’s basketball coach Jodi Kest said during the MAC teleconference Tuesday that losing Rachel Tecca (Archbishop Hoban) to a knee injury likely cost her veteran-laden team a MAC championship last year. She’s at peace with that but there was some upside in the situation in that it allowed younger players in the program to develop.
Sina King stepped up in a big way, but the primary beneficiary proved to be 6-2 junior forward Carly Young, who elevated her game in conference play last season to average better than 10 points per game.
“[She] needed to step up her game. She needed to give us more rebounds when Rachel was lost for the season to injury,” Kest said. “I think it helped everyone on the court, not just Sina.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.