OSU Wrestling: Wisconsin Recap

wrestlingThe Buckeye wrestling team traveled to Madison Friday night to take on the Badgers, a team like the Buckeyes that has a lot of talent wrestling in the B1G, which is far and away the most dominant wrestling conference in the country. Wiscy prevailed 22-15, but as I said in my last piece, this is a year to focus more on the little gems from each weight class, not necessarily to get too lost in the bigger team picture. The Buckeyes held out rising star Johnni Dijulius, which was too bad—it would have been awesome to see him go head to head with Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff.

What went right? The Buckeyes got a dominating win to start the night from young Kenny Courts, a 184 pound sophomore from Harrisburg, PA. Just as Kenny’s opponent looked like he might be making a late match surge, Kenny kicked up his finish to go on to a major 12-4 decision (a major decision is a win by at least eight points which earns one team point in addition to the three team points for the win). Kenny is currently ranked eighth in the country, trailing only seniors #1 Ed Ruth, the methodical killer from Penn State, and Ethan Lofthouse of Iowa, in terms of ranked B1G wrestlers. Kenny is a guy who figures big in the present and future for Ohio State wrestling. He is strong, quick and a lot of fun to watch.

At the end of the meet, although the Buckeye coaches had suggested Mark Martin would not go if the meet were out of hand either way, Martin nonetheless was sent out and secured a 4-3 victory. Mark, also a 174 pound sophomore from Strongsville, Ohio was a two time Ohio state high school champion at powerful St. Edwards High School. Mark also has a very bright future. He was the only wrestler able to slow Kyle Dake of Cornell last year at the NCAA tournament as Dake went on to become the first wrestler in history to win four NCAA title in four different weight classes.

In between the bookend wins of Courts and Dake, the Buckeyes had more ups than downs, but wresting is a sport where home court can matter quite a bit. A ten hour bus drive followed by a night in a hotel does take a toll in the middle of cutting weight and getting in the right state of mind that makes all the difference during a match. I always cut a little slack to a wrestling team on the road.

Logan Stieber did what he does—stealing a guy’s ankles quicker than Sheriff Bart’s chess piece grab in Blazing Saddles—and ripping shoulders as if he believed all people should walk around without arms. He won a “technical fall” by the score of 18-1 (a technical fall, or tech fall, ends the match whenever a wrestler leads by at least 15 points—and if back points are included in the winners total, the team is credited with two team points in addition to the three points for the win—if no back points are awarded, the team receives only one additional point). It is crazy enough that Stieber scored the win in the first period, but what is really crazy is that his opponent was Jesse Thielke, no less than a 2013 National Team member in greco-roman wrestling who went 2-1 in the recent world championships! I’ll say it again—if you live in Central Ohio and you like any kind of physical combat—wrestling, boxing, MMA, whatever—you are missing a real treat if you’re not getting yourself to Buckeye wrestling matches to watch this guy. He is an Ohio treasure.

Rounding out the Buckeye winners, a healthy looking 149 pound Ian Paddock scored a third period takedown to win his match. Even on the downside, things showed some brightness. Westerville native Joe Grandominico battled 10-4 Frank Cousins to the wire at 167 pounds, losing a close 3-2 decision, and Dublin native Randy Languis put up a courageous fight against 7th ranked Isaac Jordan, losing 5-2 at 157 pounds.

From a team and individual perspective, I am sure there is some disappointment that promising “little Nickie” Roberts lost by fall at 125 pounds and that 4th ranked bigger Nick Heflin lost his 197 pound bout in overtime. But to a certain extent, big Nick is going to be close in most matches and he will lose a few just because anything can happen in closer matches. Nick is well known as a defensive wrestler from the neutral position on his feet. I know Nick does not want to be that way—that he would like to carry more offense from his feet, but if you are mostly on the defense, you are going to have close matches. I wonder if Nick could help himself by performing shots (which are a move in an attempt to take down the opponent) that are serious but only intended really as feints to set up a re-shot—re-shots often work right at the moment the first shot is defended because that is the moment a wrestler is most out of position and most unprepared for what is coming next.

I am not in the wrestling room, and I have not the detailed knowledge at that level to pretend I have the answer, but I see athletes do things that suggest to me they are so afraid of failure and losing that they don’t experiment with things that put them in danger but that could help them in the long run. This may not apply to Nick at all, but it seems true across a broad spectrum, even among elite wrestlers (indeed I am suspicious that it does apply to Nick because in his comfort zone at least—i.e., in the case of upper body throws and trips—I have seen him try aggressive moves that both fail and succeed).
But I think back to something that Buckeye greats Reece Humphrey and JD Bergman said. Both had great careers at Ohio State but neither won an NCAA title (each was a runner-up and multiple time All Americans). Yet after college each went on to win two national freestyle titles and each has an Olympic bid still in his sights. The one thing that both clearly said, and almost the first thing they said in describing their own ascension, was to never fear losing. Each hates losing, of course, but in the bigger picture of their goals to stand on a podium, they viewed the process of learning, implementing and experimenting as more important than an individual result. In addition, JD added a subtle point about the psychology of winning and losing:

“People often don’t understand losses. Don’t get me wrong, I really hate to lose and think only about how I win every match, and I drive through each match so that if I am in danger of losing by one point, I win by one–it takes a mindset. But it is important how you handle a loss when it happens and put it in perspective regarding how you are growing. Win or lose you can learn and keep getting better. But if you lose and think that just because you lost you’ve regressed, guess what? You just really did regress. Fear of losing becomes a big liability for a lot of people and it retards their growth and artificially lowers their ceiling.”

Just things I think about.

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