Final Recap: the 100th B1G Wrestling Championship

wrestlingThe Buckeyes put in a strong fourth place finish in the 100th B1G Wrestling Championships this weekend at the Kohl Center on the University of Wisconsin campus. Although a constant creep by Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin, and a sprint by Michigan made it look as if the Buckeyes’ hold on that spot was tenuous, in the end the Buckeyes had enough firepower to comfortably put all comers away, primarily on the strength of their two leaders throughout the year, Logan Stieber and Nick Heflin. Fourth in the powerful B1G may translate to a top 6 or 7 national showing.

In a match that had much of the nervous anticipation and ups and downs of Stieber’s 2013 NCAA title victory over Iowa’s Tony Ramos, Logan revenged his only loss in over two years to Penn State’s freshman Zain Retherford 7-3. Stieber’s loss to Retheford in December was attributable to a punishing second period ride out by Retherford and an ankle pick in overtime that caught a tiring Stieber off guard.

There would be no takedown surprise on Sunday—when Stieber is on guard, he is virtually unassailable from his feet. He is just too strong and compact to be taken down. Instead, he hit a lighting quick double leg for a first period takedown and then went on earn over a minute of riding time. The first period ended after a Retherford escape.

When the coin flip went Stieber’s way he chose the neutral position, which is usually a surprise when it happens because choosing down is the most reliable way to earn an extra point with an escape. But Logan had an effective 3-1 lead counting the riding time. Not only would choosing down give Retherford a chance to wipe out the one point, Stieber faced the potential of a punishing Retherford ride yet again. The wisdom of the strategy was immediately apparent when Logan hit a second takedown, stretching out to an effective 5-1 lead.

Stieber then succeeded in a daring tilt to his own back exposing Retherford for two near fall points. At that point the outcome seemed secure. But just as in his match against Ramos, as two takedowns had staked Logan to a commanding lead, Retherford completed a third period reversal on the heels of more daring turn tilt acrobatics from the Buckeye, (Ramos had executed a second period takedown after a daring attempt by Stieber to avoid a takedown by diving to the mat for a Ramos ankle) and like Ramos, Retherford looked ready to put Stieber in deep near fall trouble.

But something must go off in Logan’s brain that causes his body fibers to explode if his back is in danger. His extraordinary strength just dismissed the attempt. Retherford did put in his punishing leg ride and in his maniacal fashion contorted Logan who simply waited it out, kept his riding time and claimed his third B1G title, and first at 141.

Given how effective and impenetrable Logan is on his feet, it is hard to see how Retherford can match up with Stieber if they meet in the NCAAs (they might either face each other in the semis or Retherford may have to go through Edinboro’s Mitchell Port to get to Logan in the finals). Retherford did execute his ride hard again—he is going to have to get to the second period without Stieber leading and then hope he can get another chance at a second period ride. But this match felt like it does with all of Stieber’s opponents. With a healthy and prepared Stieber, Retherford must have felt this was a different force entirely then the one he faced in December. At times it felt Stieber was just simply too strong. The mental calculus for the approach to the rubber match would be a fascinating one to learn, but there is no doubt each no knows what he is in for.

In the case of Nick Heflin, the growth has been taking place right before our eyes all winter. Nick was hurt a good part of the early season and no doubt he was adjusting to a jump of two weight classes. A weight-lifting freak and nutrition major, Nick spent all his time until this weekend building a body that finally was ideally suited for his new weight class. Coach Ryan had no doubt of Nick’s readiness and bit by bit the evidence started to bear itself out.

Nick is always prone to having a very close match—“like watching paint dry,” as Coach Ryan puts it. That is because Nick has a history of defensive wrestling which manifests itself in him not shooting from his feet, but simply countering shots. And much of his defensiveness seemed to relate to a mental block of shooting. But through the season, Nick demonstrated he could shoot effectively, sometimes racking up overpowering wins. In indeed, he hit a big last 15 second takedown in his semi-final win against Scott Schiller of Minnesota.

Nick seems to have evolved to the perfect blend of aggressive vs defensive takedown attitude. If one thinks Logan is impenetrable from his feet, Nick is doubly so. He is now so strong, when others attempt a double or single leg he just swats them away, or if the opportunity presents itself, pounces in response to earn a takedown. So I like Nick’s approach at this point—why expose yourself if you can stop anything they throw at you—just be patient and wait for the opportunity.

And so it was on Sunday. I would say Nick’s wrestling is how people who have been in combat describe what it is like—long hours of tedium punctuated by moments of extreme terror—or in Nick’s case, exhilaration. After a scoreless first period, Nick started the second position up and was reversed by number 1 seed Moran McIntosh of Penn State. Nick quickly escaped and went back to the same pattern of parrying a few attempted shots. Heflin was down to start the third period, again quickly escaped and most of the third period was spent as the first two were except toward the end McIntosh got caught in a shot. Heflin squeezed his head in a vice grip that must have sobered up McIntosh something special. Nick then spun around completing a would be match winner just after the period ended. The match ended predictably in the second sudden victory period by Nick pouncing after a McIntosh shot.

Anything can happen, and the group is close, but I just don’t think anyone else has the power to hang with Nick. If he continues to play smart and to his strengths I just do not see anyone beating him.

I will address the broader team in the two weeks heading to the NCAA championship in Oklahoma City. But just for the record, the highest finisher other than the two champions (Ohio State’s two champions tied Nebraska and overall team champion Penn State for most—in the team standings, Iowa finished second and Minnesota finished third) was Kenny Courts’ 5th place at 184. Nick Roberts and Johnni DiJulius finished sixth at 125 and 133 respectively and Ian Paddock and Mark Martin finished 7th at 149 and 174 respectively. Heavy (285 actually) Nick Tavanello scored one of the most dramatic wins of the tournament with a late thundering slam of a takedown against number 1 seed Adam Coon of Michigan. Nick went on to finish eighth, locking up one of the nine tournament bids for the B1G’s stacked 285 class.

The team earned 7 automatic bids to the NCAA with at large bid to be expected for Ian Paddock. After an heroic and seemingly unjust loss to Dylan Alton of Penn State on Saturday night, Randy Languis wrestled two more matches, technically finishing 9th. Those two wins may have earned him an at large bid—the weight class was awarded eight qualifying spots but Dylan Ness medically defaulted into the sixth spot. If Ness is unable to go, presumably Languis would be in line to pick up the last spot—and if not, he may have done enough to qualify for an at large—which would be the Buckeyes’ ninth NCAA bid—a very decent result.

Between the first and second round of Saturday, Coach Ryan was obviously agitated with the team’s then standing at about sixth place. Without making an excuse for his team because of all the firepower red-shirting this year, he said, “this is Ohio State—we should not have to rebuild.” Despite the red-shriting, despite the youth on the one hand and inexperience on the other that dot the line-up, he was unhappy the next man up was not capable of pulling the upset or turning close losses into wins.

Then the Buckeyes went out and saw huge wins by Tavanello, Courts, Martin, Stieber and Heflin. When Roberts and DiJulius picked up their own dramatic wins, this young team was no longer in fact rebuilding—they were arriving. Yes, some results before and after were difficult for all, but this young team is learning to win and to adjust.

The irony of it all is that in the first 90 years of the B1G tourney, no Ohio State wrestling coach has been successful. Coach Ryan, who attributes whatever he achieves to the fact he is his own biggest critic, has delivered to such a remarkable extent in his decade or so here that his own success is all that makes the less successful years seem as though they are not acceptable. The results achieved this weekend would have been cause for great celebration before Coach Ryan. The good news is that the team rose up and delivered results to make any coach proud. Even tough critic Tom Ryan. And as he says—“we still have two weeks.”


  1. […] No. 1 ranked Scott Schiller of Minnesota in the semis, but Nick seems to have Schiller’s number. As I have said before, Nick seems to have the perfect blend of offense and defense now, and he looks simply unassailable […]

Leave a Reply

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

%d bloggers like this: