Buckeye Wrestling: Illinois Recap

wrestlingThe Buckeye wrestling team finished the weekend with a very strong effort at Illinois despite the fact that Johnni Dijulius did not go once again at 133. And this was a meet that had everything–individual and team drama. Trailing by a team score of 16-9, the Buckeyes rallied to find themselves down 16-15 with a heavyweight match tied 1-1 after regulation. In the opening sudden death overtime period, with time about to expire, Buckeye redshirt freshman Nick Tavanello (Wadsworth, Ohio) countered a takedown attempt with a sweet and lightning quick single leg which he worked down to an ankle and finished with a match ending dump for the overtime win. It was a marvelously fun match as both heavies were quick on their feet, explosive and in great shape throughout the match. With big Nick’s win, the Buckeyes departed Champaign with a hard fought 18-16 team win over 10th ranked Illinois.

As was true at Wisconsin, much went well for the Buckeyes, even in some losing efforts. Logan Stieber completed his less than six minute effort over the weekend of long travel with a first period pin and Ian Paddock followed with another strong effort in beating 16th ranked Caleb Ervin. Ian has come back from the break looking healthy and showing a dominance throughout his matches that suggests he may be ready for an exciting run in the last two months of his collegiate career.

At 125 pounds, Nick Roberts rebounded from Friday night by taking defending national champ Jesse Delgado to the very end before surrendering a last second takedown for an 11-7 loss. At 157 and 165 pounds, Randy Languis and Joe Grandominico also competed in very tight and competitive matches against ranked opponents. The disappointment of the day was at 174. Mark Martin, appearing with a heavily bandaged left leg was in seemingly in control until a riding mistake in the third period led to a succession of points for opponent Tony Dellago. A clearly fatigued Martin hung on as best he could in overtime, and dodged a few bullets, but in the end just did not have enough left in the tank, losing by a point.

Kenny Courts started the comeback at 184 pounds. Clearly in control late in the match, Kenny displayed courage and fearlessness as he risked his own match in an attempt to secure potentially vital extra team points. With a third period ride-out looking like a clear possibility to put away the match at 6-1 with riding time, Kenny secured a tight arm lock on his opponent and then proceeded to actually perform several do or die headstands in an attempt to use his leverage to expose his opponent to his back for near fall points. After several such daring attempts he succeeded but unfortunately there was only enough time for a two point near fall, rather than the three he was seeking—leaving him with a win, but at 8-1, just that one point short of a major decision and the extra team point it would have garnered.

Nick Heflin bounced back for a win at 197. The exchange was spirited in a scoreless first period, and then Nick rode his opponent Jeff Koepke for almost a minute and a half in the second period. After Nick’s three second escape in the third period, the score stood at 1-1, but with more than a minute of riding time advantage, Nick effectively had a 2-1 lead. Nick parried a desperate Koepke for the rest of the period, mixing in enough shot attempts to avoid a stall point, and won by that 2-1 score. Nick Heflin is a very technically sound, tough and well-conditioned wrestler. Although Nick’s matches are often too close for comfort, I give him a real decent chance to wrestle for a national championship. When you consider the possibilities that Roberts, Dijulius, Paddock, Martin and Courts present, if the Buckeyes just continue on this path of nailing down the finer points of their respective games, this could well turn into a fun Ohio State post-season.

That brings me to a final point. Much of this part of the season is about addressing the little things, getting a little stronger and getting in better match shape. But others are fighting a different battle—not unlike the kind of battle a back-up quarterback fights in football—lots of hard work, lots of support to more recognized teammates and little personal acclaim. As noted, Johnni Dijulius, while making the trip, did not go in either match this weekend. In his stead was Kyle Visconti, a red-shirt sophomore at 133 from North Reading, MA. Kyle lost twice this weekend, but no one steps on the mat in competition for Ohio State wrestling unless he is one of the very best wrestlers in the country. Of the thousands of kids who have journeyed along the same path, and of the many of them who have gone on to be champions in their career, only a few have the ability to fight through to gain even a back-up role at an Ohio State.

Last year Kyle filled in well for an injured Logan Stieber and this year he fills in for a highly ranked Dijulius. Experiencing little of the limelight and no doubt providing the best practice competition to their more recognized teammates, unheralded competitors like Kyle (who, as a sophomore, has his best wrestling ahead of him) are at the top of their sport and pay handsome dividends to their team in performing one of the most demanding roles in sport. In a closely contested match, that effort, even in a loss, can be the difference for his team looking to claim a win. And that was true today. While Kyle lost, he avoided a 6 team point possibility for the Illini (and by staying off his back he avoided a 5 point possibility as well), enabling the Buckeyes to escape with the 2 point win. Winning a meet takes ten very talented individuals giving their best, even those who battle in vain for the win.

The Buckeyes return “home” Friday night for a 7:00 meet against Northwestern. The meet will actually be held at Cincinnati Moeller High School.

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