Emotionally Challenged Buckeye Wrestlers Make a Statement of Their Own

This past weekend, the Buckeyes, two years removed from a Cliff Keen Title, went to this year’s event in Las Vegas as a severely wounded team. In addition to several lingering injuries that will mask their potential until January, the team struggled to deal with the tragic death of beloved teammate Kosta Karageorge. Kosta lived with four Buckeye wrestlers and was dear friends to everyone on the team, leaving some too fragile to dive back into competition just yet. Other wrestlers, most notably second seed Kenny Courts, underperformed, perhaps as a result of the turmoil of the past week.

Despite all that, the Buckeyes finished second in the prestigious event, signaling that even with one hand tied behind its back, this team is a powerhouse in waiting.

Logan Stieber won his fourth Cliff Keen title with a dominating performance at 141 pounds against Devin Carter—the phenom who returned early from the most severe of hamstring injuries last year to meet Stieber in the NCAA finals, only to lose decisively. It was thought a completely healthy Carter could be trouble for Stieber but such was not the case. Carter is likely the strongest wrestler Stieber will face, and that showed. Carter deflected several brilliant attacks by Stieber, but in the end, Stieber’s own strength, attacking position, aggressiveness and vastly superior tool box was too much for Carter. Stieber looks unstoppable as he drives to an historic fourth NCAA title.

Freshman Nathan Tomasello was seeded sixth but proved he is among the elite at 125 pounds. He was punishing highly regarded Dylan Peters until he dove in for yet another takedown but was caught off guard and pinned in dramatic fashion. Tomasello bounded through the wrestle-backs in dominating fashion, winning third place by pummeling the four seed from Air Force in a major decision. Peters would actually finish sixth. Tomasello is a force. A mistake here and there in his young collegiate career cannot hide the fact that he is among the very best already, which he had announced with authority. The Cliff Keen runner-up Joey Dance of Virginia Tech was also getting roughed up by Tomasello in an earlier dual meet before coming back with a surprise near fall at the end to beat Tomasello. Once Nathan cleans up the vulnerabilities caused by his aggressiveness, he will be sitting near the top as we had suspected he would.

The story is similar for Kyle Snyder, the rock tough Buckeye freshman at 197. Snyder appeared to be the dominant wrestler in a 3-2 loss to champion Kyven Gadsen of Iowa State, but Gadsen seemed the beneficiary of docile refereeing as he consistently backed down from an attacking Snyder without so much as even a stall warning. Snyder was otherwise overpowering as he claimed third.

Johnni DiJulius also finished third at 133. This is a likable, fun and talented kid. But he is also brash and perhaps a little stubborn. Or maybe he just has multiple personalities because the great and not so great Johhnis were on display in Vegas. He has a deliberate style that often lands him in very close matches. So it should not surprise that the second seeded DiJulius lost a tight quarterfinal match to a competent but unranked wrestler. He also had to pull an overtime rabbit out of his hat to win a consolation semi-final.

But then the great Johnni showed up in the consolation bracket finals as he raced out to a commanding 6-0 lead and had the match put away by the time the third period started. It was a beautiful thing to watch. It would be even more beautiful if Johnni would decide to use his talents to accumulate a lead early more often, and not leave his title hopes to the late match vagaries of chance.

Nick Tavanello pitched in, as he always gamely does, with a fifth place at heavyweight. Nick can still get overpowered by the bigger boys in the weight class. However, if you combine his talent and drive with the weight lifting tutelage of former Buckeye great Nick Heflin, the future looks very bright for this sophomore, who won that fifth place match with a dramatic pin.

At 174, Mark Martin had some tough duty. For the most part he wrestled well, though he was obviously mentally deflated by a loss to eventual champion Robert Kokesh of Nebraska. Mark had wrestled well though and came back nicely against the punishing Kokesh. A pin in the seventh place match did bear witness to Mark’s ability to shake off a tough loss.

I continue to have nothing but praise for Randy Languis and Justin Kresevic, two reserves who pitched in, went out and won a few matches, looking every bit the part of strong collegiate wrestlers.

That the Buckeyes could finish second in such a strong field is a scary thought. Serious title contenders Hunter Stieber, Bo Jordan and Josh Demas did not make the trip and the Buckeyes travelled with only nine wrestlers, leaving for Las Vegas immediately from Kosta Karageorge’s memorial service. Thus they did not even field a wrestler at one of the stronger weights. After the tournament, the team and coaches were able to finally relax and soak up the joy of watching their football brothers destroy Wisconsin in the B1G title game. The solace and sense of brotherhood seemed palpable as the group witnessed the national spectacle with Kosta’s number on the Buckeye helmets, and watched Michael Bennett wreak havoc on the Badger offense wearing Kosta’s number.

People can look and say, “well, they only finished second,” but the truly amazing thing is that they finished at all, let alone second, under such circumstances.

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