Wrestling Buckeyes Look for National Title This Weekend on BTN: @twuckeye’s Expanded Breakdown

With a convincing win over eastern power No. 15, Edinboro University, the third ranked Buckeye wrestling team has advanced to the Elite Eight in the National Duals. They begin action Saturday on the University of Iowa campus, where they will face the upstart Lehigh Mountain Hawks. A win against Lehigh would likely set up a rematch with No. 2 Missouri on Saturday. If the Buckeyes can keep it going, they would go for the championship on Sunday, also a likely rematch, against Iowa. Thus, the weekend sets up many potential great matches and a chance for Buckeye redemption on multiple fronts which could lead to a national title.

Buckeye Coach Tom Ryan is a big supporter of the National Dual format (he has co-authored a forceful argument in favor of shifting the team title to the dual meet format in this months’ Amateur Wrestling News). While the hard core wrestling observer is perhaps more interested in individual matchups at the top of a weight class, the more casual fan can get behind a team first format with more enthusiasm. Coach Ryan believes the National Dual format is the perfect vehicle to grow interest in the world’s oldest combat sport. While most are focused on the traditional NCAA Championships in March, this weekend presents a real opportunity for Ohio State wrestling to claim its first national title. (For one list of the weekend’s top ten individual matchups, go here.

This year, all five of the top ranked teams participate in the National Duals and all will be in Iowa City this weekend: Iowa, Missouri, Ohio State, Minnesota and Cornell. In addition, No. 12 Illinois advanced to this weekend’s finale. Given that kind of high end participation, it is hard to say the winner is not in fact the best team in the country, man for man. That, combined with the excitement from Cinderella programs such as Lehigh and Chattanooga (which upset perennial power Oklahoma), seems to demonstrate two things: power programs are getting behind the National Dual concept, and lesser programs have a chance to participate in and add to the excitement (I would suggest also that in the future, the lesser ranked teams face off against each other first–kind of like the B1G Tournament does for the lower seeds).

Lehigh, currently ranked No. 11 has competed with distinction in the venerable Eastern Interscholastic Wrestling Association (which includes Army, Navy, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell and a number of Eastern wrestling powers). In fact, Lehigh and powerhouse Cornell are expected to compete for the league title this year. Lehigh earned its bout with Ohio State by pummeling George Mason last week. While it would be difficult to see Lehigh pulling the upset against the Buckeyes, they will come well coached with hardened competitors full of fire for the upset.

Assuming the Buckeyes can advance to the semis, they likely would face No. 2 Mizzou, assuming Mizzou takes down No. 12 Illinois (which blanked a decent Kent State team). The Buckeyes lost 20-19 to Missouri in December. The teams actually tied at 19 but Missouri was awarded the win on tie-breakers (which the wrestling world euphemistically calls “criteria”). They had to go deep into the tie breakers—something like most first takedowns. Regardless, some interesting things were apparent in that first meeting that warrant watching this time around:
• At 125, Nathan Tomasello wrestled very strongly against current No. 2 and long-time power Alan Waters, losing 11-8. This was yet another example of Nathan’s early season habit of going too aggressively and getting caught for back points by more seasoned competitors. If Nathan avoids these kinds of mistakes while still keeping up the assault he can start to his climb to the very top. This is a titanic match-up that could be a great measuring stick for freshman Tomasello’s advancement.
• At 141, three time NCAA champion Logan Stieber picked up a six point forfeit. This weekend, he is likely to go against fifth ranked Lavion Mayes. Nothing is beyond Stieber’s ability–he has pinned high ranked Josh Dwieza of Iowa (pronounced jebba) and has scored major wins against other top competitors. His decisive win over No. 2 Mitchell Port is evidence that Stieber is back on track after struggling with a bad flu. However, it is still a tall order to expect a pin against a top-ranked wrestler. So the six points will be much more in doubt this time around (Buckeye fans might be interested in another comment in this month’s Amateur Wrestling News which practically bemoans the fact that Stieber has just “ruined” this weight class as he pursues an epic fourth title).
• On the other hand, at 149, Hunter Stieber made a surprise appearance in December, though clearly he was not ready. The six points Missouri registered for a first period pin were shocking. Stieber likely will not go this weekend as he takes all the time he can in an effort to go to the Big Ten with fully healed elbows in two weeks. His backup is Randy Languis. I am sure Randy is disappointed with his results this year—he actually seemed more competitive last year while wresting up at 157. But Randy is a talented young man with pride and a lot of fight. It is hard to see Missouri’s No. 4 ranked Drake Houdashelt duplicating his six point effort.
• The clearest difference is at 165. In December, Missouri’s unranked wrestler squeezed by with a two point overtime win against back-up Justin Kresevic. But Buckeye Bo Jordan is long recovered from his turf toe and has just been destroying opponents. Buckeye fans can look to an eight, perhaps the full nine-point swing in this match alone. For an earlier write-up, see this.
• In December, Missouri’s 14th ranked Willie Miklus put a 12-2 major win up against a game John Fox, filling in for No. 12 Kenny Courts. The outcome is tough to predict in this case, but it is unlikely that Miklus can add that extra point for a major decision, even if he is able to subdue the higher ranked Courts.
• 197 was a huge disappointment for wrestling fans in December. Ohio State phenom Kyle Snyder was slated to go up against returning NCAA champion J’Den Cox, but, in a successful effort to win the dual, Missouri shuffled around its line-up by sending Cox up against heavyweight Nick Tavanello. It is unlikely the dual will set up that way again, so we should see the new match of the year (the previous match of the year was last week’s Logan Stieber win over Mitchell Port).
• In turn, that should set up a match between No. 9 Buckeye Nick Tavanello and No. 16 Devin Mellon. Perhaps Nick is the favorite, but he has not wrestled in a good long while as he recovers from a banged up knee. It is not a lock that the Buckeyes will recapture these three points.

This is a wild one. While I think a Buckeye victory is likely, the Buckeyes have to hold serve with December winners Johnni DiJulius, Josh Demas and Mark Martin, or look for Nathan Tomasello to finally bust through against the elite of the class.

If the Buckeyes do advance, and if they face No. 1 Iowa (who has to get past Chattanooga and the Cornell/Minnesota winner), they will have their hands full. The Hawkeyes narrowly beat the Buckeyes in Columbus 18-14. The Buckeyes put forward their full line-up, including Hunter Stieber who lost a close one. While it is possible Hunter could be sent out if it meant winning a national title, odds are that Randy Languis will be tasked with leaving the mat without a loss by major decision or more.

In January’s first meet-up, the Buckeyes got a close win at 133 but suffered close losses at 125 and 184. Those matches are up for grabs and a change either way in any one of those three could decide the National Championship. Which reminds me of 197. Kyle Snyder suffered one of his two losses to Nathan Burak in this match, and it was a curious one. Some kind of mix-up deprived Snyder from taking down in his period of choice and the loss of a likely escape point cost him the match. This match could well go the other way as well, and it needs to. It is too much to ask a recovering Nick Tavenello to go out at 285 and beat third ranked Bobby Telford for all the marbles.

Buckeye fans—remember how fun the football national championship was? OK, if you are not a serous wrestling fan, this may not seem quite as exciting, but give yourself a break. You get a chance this weekend to watch something that will be memorable and fun, perhaps historic. You will have to find BTN to watch it, but win or lose, it should have great drama.

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