Crowning Champions: Buckeyes Logan Stieber and Nick Heflin

Logan Stieber, courtesy of

Logan Stieber, courtesy of

The 2014 NCAA Wrestling Championships concluded with all the drama one can stand last night in Oklahoma City. But in the calm before the storm, the adjoining Oklahoma City Convention Center hosted a skills and drills clinic conducted by national level coaches and wrestlers. There, hundreds of miles from Columbus, essential members of the Ohio State wrestling family, past, present and future, assembled.

There was Jim Humphrey, a Buckeye great from the early 70s—B1G champion, world silver medalist, former national team coach (assisted by a young up and coming coach Dan Gable) and father of current national team member and Buckeye NCAA runner-up Reece Humphrey, also in attendance. There were people like Andy DiSabato—one of the founders of the great DiSabato Columbus wrestling family. And there was current Junior World champion and soon to be Buckeye Kyle Snyder. Various members of the family talked, reminisced and reveled in the rich heritage of Ohio wrestling.

By the end of the night, Buckeye wrestling would embrace the newest chapter in the family album which now enjoys its long overdue collective view from the top of collegiate wrestling.

Both Logan Stieber and Nick Heflin took the walk of champions through the smoke of the red corner, along the red carpet of Chesapeake Energy Arena and up to the raised platform to wrestle for a national championship in front of a national audience.

As expected, Stieber won his third national championship in his march to becoming only the fourth person in history to win four NCAA titles. His first championship was won on a contested no takedown ruling to Jordan Oliver of Oklahoma State and his second was won against feisty Tony Ramos of Iowa after a contested back point no call on Stieber. Both those wins occurred at 133 pounds.

In his first championship attempt at 141 pounds there would be no controversy or mystery. Facing a game Devin Carter of Virginia Tech who came back early from what seemed to be a season ending injury, Stieber was able to take Carter down at will, breezing to a 10-1 major victory. The win put the Buckeyes in sixth place to stay and provided a tonic to soothe the heartbreaking disappointment left over from Nick Heflin’s match.

The finals started at 174 pounds, which was pretty clever. That meant that not only would the finals conclude with the final collegiate bout for David Taylor of Penn State (via Ohio’s St. Paris Graham) at 167, but the night would start in Oklahoma City in a wild bedlam matchup between two former champions, Chris Perry of Oklahoma State and Andrew Howe of Oklahoma. That also meant 197 pound Nick Heflin would go before teammate Stieber.

Nick lost that match but years from now he can take comfort in a few things. True, his picture won’t be hung in Buckeye facilities as a national champion and true, he won’t be asked to stand at NCAA finals as a champion, but anyone familiar with the sport knows that anyone who has taken that champion’s walk to compete in the finals gets the same admiration as the winner, if not even a little more, for having reached that point to come up just short.

Nick Heflin, courtesy of

Nick Heflin, courtesy of

Nick will also take great pride at some point that he went down his way—executing the same template that had gotten him to that point. Surely Nick knew his strategy was as high with risk as it was with reward. His strategy of waiting for a mistake and angling for a close finish had only failed him once before in 2013-14. One could say it did not fail him this time either. Nick lost 2-1 with the difference being a stall point awarded after a warning that seemed to come way too early by an impatient referee, perhaps injecting his subjective judgment into a title fight. One could say Nick should have hit the urgency button sooner after the warning, but Nick in fact was able to manufacture the winning takedown throw. Unfortunately it was earned a micro-second after time expired, meaning Nick had thunderously thrown Missouri freshman J’Den Cox to the mat as a newly minted national champion.

And here is the joy and pain of wrestling. Viewed from a team perspective, Nick’s result would not have mattered—the Buckeyes would have finished sixth regardless of the outcome. But the disappointment of seeing Nick fall so painfully short is felt by every member of the Buckeye wrestling family.

This family is now enjoying its status as a national power. This status is overdue given Ohio’s preeminent status in the wrestling world. The world has been set right in this regard because of a coach who, like a corporate CEO embraces all aspects of his job, setting up a structure and enterprise that keeps Ohio talent in state and attracts the greatest talent out of state—such as incoming freshmen Snyder and Thomas Haines of Pennsylvania. He delegates coaching responsibilities to people like Lou Rosselli who insiders regard as one of the best wrestling minds in the nation.

Lou Rosselli, courtesy of

Lou Rosselli, courtesy of

CEO/Coach Ryan also made the same walk as Stieber and Heflin made last night only to come up as short as Nick did.

For the rest of his life, Nick Heflin will be revered and embraced by the wrestling world, but nowhere so fondly and respectfully as in heart of Ohio.

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