Wrestling Buckeyes Look for First NCAA Title in Front of National Audience

For the fourth time in as many years, Logan Stieber will end his season emerging from a cloud of smoke to jog on a red carpeted pathway through a packed arena up to an elevated wrestling mat. In front of a national television audience he will once again wrestle for a national title. Three things will be different this time: it will be his last as he attempts to become only the fourth person in history to win four national titles, he will wrestle in the final bout of the night in a bit of theater designed to hold the attention and imagination of the arena and viewing audience to a pitch and his beloved teammates will be wrestling to earn what is very possibly their school’s first national wrestling crown.

In an amazing sports year for the Ohio State Buckeyes, yet another dream season could climax in ownage of the national stage in front of over 19,000 passionate fans Saturday night at Scottrade Arena in St. Louis.

Until tonight, last night was the biggest night in Buckeye wrestling history and the young team did not disappoint–you might say they shocked the world in the semi-finals of this year’s NCAA Wrestling Championship. Freshmen Nathan Tomasello (125) and Kyle Snyder (197) scored close wins over undefeated and number one ranked Missouri wrestlers and Stieber demolished unseeded freshman Kevin Jack of North Carolina State.

Tomasello must have been confused when he heard the roar of the crowd early on as his finals opponent Zeke Moisey, a 34-13 freshman from West Virginia was pinning Thomas Gilman of Iowa in 52 seconds on the adjoining mat. But after Tomasello’s last second takedown at the edge of the mat in a 4-2 comeback win against Missouri’s undefeated Alan Waters, Tomasello soaked in the ovation intended now clearly intended for him. The road to the win was bumpy–recalling how hard Waters rode him in their first encounter, Nathan chose neutral rather than going down. After he failed to achieve a second period takedown, the choice seemed to backfire, but two third period takedowns provided the dramatic finish.

In July, Nathan sought to deliver an early dose of momentum for his teammates, and he has delivered.

This year, Tomasello has beaten Moisey 19-6 at the Michigan State Open and 15-10 at the Cliff Keen Invitational.

Logan Stieber took apart his lanky semi-final opponent, earning a major decision. It is kind of odd to be in a national finals talking about Buckeye achievement beyond Stieber, but he is thrilled to be sharing the stage in these happy circumstances. Stieber will once again face the talented Mitchell Port of Edinboro whom Stieber bested fairly convincingly a month ago.

Kyle Snyder faced undefeated and defending national champion J’Den Cox of Missouri. Cox, the freakishly athletic sophomore, won a controversial championship last year against Buckeye Nick Heflin. He was not so fortunate last night. Early on, Snyder jerked Cox’s head, causing Cox a compression his body over his feet. With a push and a pick of the heel trapped by pressure, Snyder earned a takedown and came tantalizingly close to earning backpoints as well as he forced Cox back first to the mat. With that early lead, and knowing it is hard to attack him from neutral, Snyder forced Cox to take the chances. While Cox came close several times, strong whizzers (a wrestling term for torquing an opponent with your own arm going between his arm and torso) near the edge of the mat always permitted Snyder to extricate himself from danger.

Snyder now faces Kyven Gadsen of Iowa State. Gadsen beat Snyder by a point in December at the Las Vegas Cliff Keen Invitational. But like Tomasello, Snyder has learned to control matches and win the close ones. Gadsen is a great wrestler, but Snyder is more than capable of walking off with the title.

Bo Jordan (165) and Kenny Courts (184) both lost their semi-final matches and head to the consolation bracket. They can finish no lower than sixth and can place as high as third. Bo will once again face his cousin Isaac in the consolation semis. For Kenny, the trajectory of his fantastic takeoff might be a little lower, but this trip to the semis was a dream come true. He and his coach pulled off the feel good story of the year and it is exciting to think about what their new found training change in the run-up to the championship could yield next year.

Coach Tom Ryan and the Buckeyes have been here before–sitting on a commanding lead only to lose the title to a cresting Iowa team. The year was 2009 and the place was Scottrade Arena in St. Louis. So you can forgive the Buckeyes if there is no champagne in sight just yet.

The differences between 2009 and now are significant however. Iowa is thirteen points down. While they can still achieve 24 placement points (plus any pin or major decision bonus points), the Buckeyes have 21 potential placement points, including two finals matches where they are favorites and a third where the odds are no worse than even. The twelve points those three wins could command would seal off an Iowa win even if all goes right, and Jordan and Courts can each add up to 4-1/2 placement points.

The Buckeyes have not yet picked up the gold at the end of the rainbow but the pot is shining brightly before their eyes.

Friday, 4 PM

Though danger definitely lurks with a deep Iowa team and top heavy Missouri team, Ohio State busted out to a commanding lead after the third of six rounds at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in St. Louis, MO. Although the Buckeyes are down to five wrestlers who are still alive, all five will be All Americans and are headed to the semifinals, live tonight on ESPN (8 Eastern).

The feel good story of the year really is Kenny Courts. Dogged by inconsistent performance in light of his clear and undeniable talent, the junior 184 pounder is one match away from wrestling on the elevated stage in tomorrow night’s finals. Coach Tom Ryan, while frustrated at times, has never wavered in his belief that Kenny had the goods to break through. Both were rewarded when Kenny hit an overtime takedown to beat Matthew McCutcheon of Penn State. Ryan suggests a gentleman upstairs might be looking out for the unseeded Kenny who, after knocking off a six seed, saw someone else knock off the eleven seed that would have been his next opponent, followed by McCutcheon who beat the third seed. It has happened yet again. His next opponent, Nathaniel Brown of Lehigh upended the two seed. The winner will go to the finals in a bracket buster no one saw coming.

The other amazing thing is this: while you can expect Logan Stieber and his freshmen gang of three (Tomasello, Jordan and Snyder) to make it to the semis, with such a big number something almost always goes wrong. Not today. Tomasello kicked the stuffing out of Corey Mines of Edinboro to earn a tech fall. Stieber did the same to Anthony Abidin of Nebraska. But then Bo Jordan PINS a Cooper Moore who pinned two guys including four seed Nick Sulzer, a guy most predicted would best Jordan.

Right after Courts’ thriller, Kyle Snyder had had a Schiller Thriller, taking down the immovable object in Scott Schiller of Minnesota. Schiller is a very strong wrestler, and a veteran but he has no ability to penetrate Snyder’s defenses. An early Snyder takedown essentially sealed the deal.

So the Buckeyes head to the semis with an astounding five wrestlers, three of whom face number one seeds and two of those, Tomasello and Snyder, face Missouri opponents. The Buckeyes will need to pull off one of those head to heads, and to stay ahead of Iowa they may need both. Of course, if Kenny Courts or Bo Jordan (who faces number one Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State) can get to the finals, the entire equation changes for the better.

It has been a great year to be a Buckeye and now a first NCAA wrestling title is in sight. Tonight ill reveal much about where that dream stands.

From earlier:

Friday Morning

The Ohio State Wrestling Team suffered some setbacks but had a strong enough day to lead after the first full day of competition at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis’ Scottrade Arena. The story of the tournament so far is unseeded Kenny Courts who will join four others this morning in the championship bracket quarterfinals. In total, the Buckeyes have a tournament leading eight wrestlers still going, and all are going strong. Here is a repeat of the first session and a summary of the second session.

First Session:

The Ohio State Wrestling team had a very pleasant surprise, a close loss to a seeded wrestler and a genuine heartbreak. Badly injured Hunter Stieber gave it a go. Without a single usable arm he nearly missed a dramatic comeback. He looked pretty good on his feet but probably was not healthy enough to escape from the bottom in the second. That led to him getting put on his back. Although he valiantly held off a pin, the period rideout cost him the point he could have used as he gamely came back. A near takedown at the end fell short, sending the hurt fighter to the long wrestle backs, likely against last year’s NCAA runner-up Josh Kindig, who is also hurt.

On the bright side, the Buckeyes send a tournament leading seven wrestlers to the second round as they picked up bonus points on two pins (Tomasello ad Jordan), one tech fall (Logan Stieber) and one major decision (Snyder). Even better, Kenny Courts nailed an overtime takedown to score an upset over a six seed. Kennny’s would be opponent, the eleven seeded Pfarr from Minnesota was also upset, opening the possibility that the very talented but enigmatic Kenny could end up in the quarters with a win tonight.

The Buckeyes did encounter a tough loss at 174, but Mark Martin can redeem himself in the wrestlebacks. He still stands a decent chance of making the All American brackets.

The Buckeyes finished the first session in first place in the team standings. Even better, their main challengers, Iowa and Missouri had significant setbacks. Iowa, in particular lost five (141) and three (285) seeds and have only five wrestlers into the second round. Mizzou fared a little better. Although they scored two minor upsets, they also suffered one minor and one major upset when four seed Eblen lost at 174. Mizzou also sends seven to the second round but will have at least one tough match when three seed Lavion Mayes goes against Dean Heil of Oklahoma State.

The Buckeyes have particularly critical matches at 133 (Johnni DiJulius vs 17-1 thirteen seed Cody Brewrer of Oklahoma), 157, (Josh Demas v. eleven seed Brian Murphy, Michigan) and 184 (Kenny Courts v. unseeded Scott Patrick, Davidson). This is potentially a big night for the Buckeyes, who historically go on a nice run in the first evening session. Buckle up.

Second Session

The Buckeyes continued their roll by picking up a second win by Kenny Courts who dominated Davidson’s Scott Patrick at 184. Coach Ryan said he never gave up on Kenny despite a disappointing effort for much of this season. “Kenny just kept believing and now he has a huge match that he has to win this morning.” Coach Ryan allowed that a higher force is perhaps at work. Not only did Kenny knock off the sixth seed in the first round, but Patrick managed to bump off the eleven seed as well. Now he takes on 14 seed Mathew McCutcheon who beat third seeded Blake Stauffer of Arizona State. A win would put Kenny, incredibly, in the semis, something very few would have predicted.

The Buckeyes lost at 133 and 157. Johnni DiJulius was mauled for a major decision loss to Cody Brewer of Oklahoma. At 157 Josh Demas toyed agonizingly with the winning takedown over Brian Murphy of Michigan but just could not finish it off, suffering a tough one point loss. The good news is that both DiJulius and Demas have a chance to make a strong push through the wrestlebacks later this morning.

Mark Martin scored a nice win in his first round in the consolation bracket. He also has an opportunity to advance to the medal rounds as he would likely face no higher than a seven seed for several matches.

Kenny Courts will be joined in the quarters by the usual Buckeye suspects, Nathan Tomasello at 125, Logan Stieber at 141, Bo Jordan at 165 and Kyle Snyder at 197. Tomasello won a major decision in his backyard brawl with Ben Willefort of Cleveland State, while Stieber walked away with a pin and Snyder managed a 14-5 demolition of Shane Woods of Wyoming. Bo Jordan ground out a 6-2 win over Dylan Palacio of Cornell and now finds himself against thirteen seed Cooper Moore of Northern Iowa. Moore knocked off four seed Nick Sulzer of Virginia, who some experts (me not included) projected to knock off the fifth seeded Jordan.

The heartbreak continued for Hunter Stieber who made a go of it with no usable elbow. His coach mercifully threw in the towel in the middle of a match with a gracious Clayton Ream of North Dakota State. As the Ohio State partisans rose to their feet in admiration and tribute, Hunter left the mat knowing double elbow surgery awaits him next week. Hunter gave every ounce of effort his pain wracked body could offer.

At heavy, Nick Tavanello once again gave up a last second takedwon to Brooks Black to become the second Buckeye eliminated from contention.

The team scores show Ohio State in the lead at 23. Iowa trails by two points. Although they also have five wrestlers in the quarters, three of them face long odds: Thomas Gilman goes against third seeded Joey Vance of Virginia Tech at 125; Sam Brooks faces number one seed Gabe Dean of Cornell at 184 and Nathan Burak faces third seeded Kyven Gadsen of Iowa State at 197. What is more, Mike Evans may be third seeded at 174 but he goes against sixth seed Logan Storley of Minnesota who beat Evans for third at the Big Ten two weeks ago. Corey Clark faces a pretty tough sixth seed Earl Hall of Iowa State at 133 as well.

Missouri suffered a number of setbacks but still has all three number one seeds going. Assuming Ohio State can win this morning at 125 and 197, that could set up two titanic matches in the semis tonight as Tomasello would go against Missouri’s one seed Alan Waters and Kyle Snyder would go against Missouri’s defending national champ J’Den Cox. Before that though, Snyder will once again need to beat the very tough fifth seed, Scott Schiller of Minnesota.

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