OSU v. Nebraska Wrestling Recap

wrestlingThe Buckeyes lost 28-12 to the Huskers. I suppose one could be disappointed by that but the truth is, there was much for a Buckeye fan to be pleased with. Certainly a lot for a wrestling fan to be pleased with. That’s a curious observation but I think it speaks well to what a marvelous sport wrestling is.

Why is that? Well first, I wish the sport were called something else because it is nothing short of fighting in the most basic human way—much like the 100 yard dash is running at its essence. True, punches and kicks are mostly, but not entirely, disallowed, but once two combatants have a hold of each other, around the world, the fight quickly becomes what wrestling is: two individuals trying to inflict maximum harm on each other. But of course done with the utmost of sportsmanship. Usually.

In the crucible of the fight experience you get the passion that people associate with other fight venues—boxing, or MMA. I think of the Iowa team that mirrors their seemingly half crazed coach, the always entertaining but thoroughly likable Tom Brands, himself an Olympic gold medalist. You cannot help but love the sheer fun of the despotism a team like Iowa brings any time they are on the mat.

But as a sport you get the best of all worlds. If the team is great, that means the team has very strong wrestlers up and down the lineup. But even if the team is not great, it can have individual wrestlers that can scale the heights and provide all the excitement a school partisan could want. I think of a few years ago when a Harvard wrestler stood on top of the podium at the NCAA tournament. Crimson partisans had a blast that weekend, and that fun centered around just one fighter.

Once you become a fan, you simply root for other wrestlers. One of my favorite Buckeye fighters is the currently red-shirting Josh Demas who wrestled at 157 last year. Josh did great, but in following him I could not help being a fan of the harrowing style of Northwestern wrestler Jason Welch. So when Welch ascended the elevated stage in the NCAA finals, I felt as if I had a wrestler in the finals and it was as fun as rooting on a Buckeye—it would have been a lot more fun if a faux one point penalty had not been assessed against Welch for a hand lock.

Ohio State is a GREAT program. It is a little down this year due to red-shirting, but next year when those wrestlers return and new super star recruits show up on campus, Ohio State fans will have all they can handle in excitement. But even this year, in the midst of a 28-12 loss to a very strong Nebraska team, there is much to be thrilled about. Wrestling is truly a sport where the Ohio State focus is on the March B1G tourney and the NCAA tourney. Ohio State is not stacked up and down the line-up this year. Rather it has one fighter, Logan Stieber, shooting to become one of the iconic figures of all-time, and supporting cast members in other weight class who are either a rung below or who seem on the verge to elevating themselves in status.

Let me also say something about the coaches. Head coach Tom Ryan has said in a self-deprecating way that Ohio State fans should feel blessed that Stieber and his red-shirting phenom brother Hunter decided to come to Ohio State. True, but they are there because of Coach Ryan and his incredible staff of Lou Rosselli and Buckeye great and sartorially magnificent J Jaggers. Ohio is one of the greatest fighting states in the country but until Coach Tom arrived, Ohio State coaches had not been able to keep much of the in-state talent at Ohio State. That has all changed. So, long after the Stiebers have taken their talents to the world stage, Buckeye coaches will be establishing a dynasty for all Buckeye fans to enjoy.

So let’s do a post-mortem of Nebraska as we head to a deliciously fun rivalry match against Michigan at St. John’s Arena next Friday. While I believe some of the brightest moments occurred in the matches with the darkest results, let’s start with the winners.

All Buckeye conversation starts with 141 pound Logan Stieber and rightfully so. People should know, for all his greatness, Logan is simply the nicest, most decent kid you will find in sports. He is not comfortable in the spotlight and rejoices only when the conversation turns to his teammates, a quintessential Ohio trait. In the month of January, Logan has not needed to go past the first period. Last night in the time it took me to tweet out a brief note on the previous match, Logan had drained all the blood from talented Colton McCrystal’s shoulders and pinned him neatly to the mat. The only bad thing about Logan is, right now, if you show up to see him, you better not blink because your viewing time is limited to about 120 seconds.

197 pound Nick Heflin never disappoints. Even when he loses, which is only once so far, he powers through his matches with the consistent drive of a steam engine. Nick says he has a mental block about shooting for takedowns and that was in evidence last night. He took 20th ranked Caleb Kolb to overtime but spent the entire third period on the defensive. That was not a particularly bad tactical move—I contend that Nick is such a good athlete that he can defend any shot and likely scramble for the takedown. Sure enough, Kolb shot and Nick pounced, but unfortunately ran out of time, sending the match to overtime.

Dan Gable once famously said, “I shoot, I score. You shoot, I score.” Nick has the second part down, but after seeing him aggressively hit the takedown to win in sudden victory I tweeted that I don’t know why Nick would ever be afraid to shoot. He may have just seen the weakness he wanted or he just decided what the heck. Now it is really true, especially at the heavy classes, a missed shot can put you on your back. But the better fighters learn how to recover from a bad shot and usually have a back-up in mind. I was proud of Nick for throwing caution to the wind in overtime—he has done it before—but if Nick would only bring that sort of confidence earlier in the match, is there anyone who could challenge him?

At 133, Johnni DiJulius was the only other Buckeye winner. The match should not have been close, but Johnni is coming off an injury. Maybe that accounted for the narrow 2-1 win. Johnni was in control the entire match, even though he was tied 1-1 with a point waiting to be awarded because he had over a minute of riding time advantage. But, if you let an opponent hang around, bad things can happen and they almost did. When Husker Shawn Nagel went for a third period takedown DiJulius found himself in a fix that most wrestlers do not overcome. But DiJulius is obviously one of those wrestlers who is comfortable in a scramble. Time and time again I have seen him wriggle out of impossible looking dilemmas. And, as per his usual, he did it again, staving off the takedown to preserve a win. I don’t have a problem with Johnni’s tactic here—he is a guy who knows how to shoot and he was protecting a lead, but his loved ones must have suffer many near heart attacks as they watch him compete.

184 pound Kenny Courts has lost twice now to talented TJ Dudley, but there is no doubt in my mind Kenny is the better wrestler. I was only afraid of an early mistake and that happened. Kenny executed a lightning quick ankle shot which Dudley countered by locking in a cradle that led to a pin. It happens. Kenny’s task is to use that as a teaching moment to protect himself as he continues to take advantage of his quickness. Beating Penn State’s Ed Ruth is a tall order, but short of that, Kenny, like Nick Heflin is capable of making it to an NCAA final. Yes, the loss must have been painful, but it was a loss borne out of exactly the correct aggressive frame of mind.

At 125, No. 16 Buckeye Nick Roberts had a big task to bring down a really tough and aggressive 9th ranked Tim Lambert but coming out of the first period, Roberts had a 5-1 lead, counting riding time. But then a problem emerged which would haunt the Buckeyes the rest of the night—the inability to escape from the down position in the second period. Now this is no small tactical issue—it takes a very strong wrestler to ride out another at this level—so it does speak to a difference in class. To elevate in class, several Buckeyes will have to at least start with a change in mindset to expend the energy necessary to get out—the failure to do so is simply too tiring as accomplished fighters will beat the tar out of an individual who cannot escape from the bottom position. Nick simply got wore down and pinned. But this kid is not far away and once he elevates in class he can become a terror.

The story is much the same at 149 with Ian Paddock. Ian fought 5th ranked Jake Sueflohn tough for the first period, ending at 4-4. I did not sense a loss of energy for Ian even as he was put on his back in the third period. He was up against a very tough opponent. But again, he just could not free himself in the second period. Ian is a senior but it has been three years since he has had the benefit of the grind of a full season as a starter. He has the requisite wrestling ability if he just continues to increase his mat stamina throughout the match. If there is one Buckeye I tab for a surprise breakthrough it is Ian.

Mark Martin never got it going against Robert Kokesh at 174, but that’s just a difference in toughness. Kokesh is a talented grinder. Mark is very smooth but until he develops into a more brutish force like Kokesh, he is going to have a bit of problem with exactly that type of opponent. But Mark is young and there is ample time to hit the weight room and throw around a similar kind of force.

Nick Tavanello at heavy started strong but also got punished a bit in the second period and was obviously off his game from that point. That happens too—if you let the momentum swing in the other guy’s favor it is very hard to remember you can still come back and reassert control. Keep grinding Nick and don’t get lulled into thinking a bad change of momentum has to dictate your result—you have the quickness and conditioning to make things happen.

The Buckeyes had a key match with Courts go against them, and in a big way for a pin. They also may not have expected Nick Roberts to win at 125, but they certainly were not expecting him to be pinned. But still they lost each of what might have been considered the toss-up matches, including at 125 and heavy. They also lost the third toss-up at 165 when Joe Grandominico was thoroughly dominated by Austin Wilson. Wilson is very good, don’t get me wrong, but I really had thought Joe would make this a close match—it was not, so “on paper” did not reflect the Husker advantage that actually unfolded.

Finally, in some respects Randy Languis showed what fighting, in the sport we call wrestling, is all about. Again, on paper, Randy had no business competing at 157 against No. 1 ranked James Green, but Randy battled tough throughout. Green pushed his way to a major decision but was never close to extending that to a technical fall precisely because Randy, though likely going down to defeat as the third period went on, kept up his own determined heat as he took valiant shots from his feet and nearly took Green down on a couple of occasions. Coach Ryan posted a Randy Couture quote the other day:

”Bravery has never and will never mean you are not afraid. Bravery is going forward even when you are terrified.”

Randy has been around long enough that I am sure he was neither terrified nor afraid, but facing James Green certainly had to be an unpleasant task. Randy stayed game throughout and managed to deliver his own sting, and that was fun to watch.

To sum up, even in a year of pause, this Buckeye team has a handful of wrestlers with the potential to go deep in a tournament, and that is what a season is all about. So soon enough what seems like a lackluster showing could well prove to be very satisfying.

As mentioned, the Buckeyes face none other than Michigan, a team on a roll, having bested no. 2 Minnesota last week. More on that later.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: