Kyle’s Garden Party

To this point, 20 year old Kyle Snyder has enjoyed success in the two main avenues of American wrestling: freestyle (think international and Olympics) and folkstyle (high school and college). The wildest ride by far has been in folkstyle.

Kyle’s older brother Stephen was a two time Maryland state high school champ who went on to a stellar career at West Point. His younger brother Kevin had been accepted to wrestle at the Naval Academy until those pesky and exacting military physical admission requirements (vision, etc) got in the way. This fall he will join Kyle on the Ohio State wrestling team.

Kyle is a double whammy tweener in the sense that he is a full 97kg freestyler, meaning he has to work hard to get to his freestyle weight of 213.4 pounds, and even harder to get to the collegiate weight of 197 pounds.

This stretch presents a common problem. In both freestyle and college, 197 pounds and 97kg represent the last refuge before a wrestler is forced into the huge void between those weights and the last, heaviest weights: 285 pounds in college and 125kg (275 pounds) in freestyle. The heavyweight divisions are such that it is very difficult for a wrestler to be successful at less than about 6’3″ in height, because it is that length which can really take on the muscle mass necessary to compete with the top tier guys who have packed as much strength as they can into 275-285 pounds.

So what you have at 197 or 213.4 pounds are all the guys shorter than 6’3″ (which is going to be a much more robust number than the guys at 6’3″ or taller) packing on all the power and muscle they can to avoid making the huge leap in class. In this sense, it really is a muscle man mauler of a weight class.

As a true collegiate freshman coming off two consecutive medals, including a gold, at the junior worlds, Kyle was certainly ready to compete at a high level for Ohio State. His first early test came at the December, 2014 Cliff Keen Tournament in Las Vegas against Missouri sophomore J’Den Cox, who eight months earlier had won an NCAA title by hanging on to avoid a last second takedown in the finals by Ohio State’s Nick Heflin. (Cox, by the way, as an upcoming senior at Missouri had his own magical run in the Olympic Trials, claiming a spot as Snyder’s Olympic teammate at 86kg).

Snyder lost a close one to Cox, an old nemesis, but not so much because of any lack of talent. Indeed, a lack of experience at the collegiate level seemed more at issue, something that would occur again in Kyle’s other regular season loss.

For the most part though, Kyle dominated in the regular season, riding to a B1G tourney final match-up in Columbus against Morgan McIntosh of Penn State. McIntosh, a fireplug of a strongman just seemed like a hard match-up for Snyder. The resulting close win by McIntosh sent Snyder to the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis as a four seed.

A four seed meant Snyder would have to meet up with Cox in the semi-finals, but this time Snyder prevailed in a close but convincing win, sending him to the finals against Kyven Gadson of Iowa State.

The Buckeyes had clinched its first national championship in the medal round that preceded the championship bouts. When 184 pound Kenny Courts took fifth place in his magical tournament run, Ohio State put enough points between itself and the field that it did not matter what happened from there on.

The 2015 tournament was dominated by the fact that Buckeye Logan Stieber was shooting to become only the fourth NCAA wrestler to win four national titles. Thus the dramatic buildup in the order was set so that Stieber’s 141 match would be last. Given that Buckeye 125 pounder Nathan Tomasello had also streaked to the finals, the coronation of Ohio State as team champion would be highlighted with Buckeyes going for three titles in the last five matches, starting with Kyle’s 197 pound title bout.

Kyle emerged from the smokey tunnel and bounded on stage confident he would be the next four time NCAA winner, starting then. Snyder thrives on lightning quick ankle attacks. Although everyone in the world knows they are coming, his strength, mobility and trigger points are such that they cannot be stopped.

And so it was with Gadson–Kyle got in quickly but had some trouble pulling in the powerful Gadson’s leg, so to gain leverage, Kyle stood up, bringing Gadson with him. Whether out of exuberance or simply bad luck, Kyle found himself upright in an uprotected position. Gadson caught Snyder’s leg at the same time he had an under/over shoulder lock. Like spinning the wheel on a large boat, Gadson easily tripped Snyder, spun him to his back and quickly administered a mind-numbing fall.

Snyder, stunned, accepted Gadson’s handshake, put his head down and exited speechless past condolence offering Buckeye coach Ross Thatcher. While Tomasello and Stieber would go on to win titles and the team would revel in its historic moment, Snyder could not escape his own crushing, dream shattering defeat.

The course of events would erase the pain as the months unfolded. Although eligible to compete in the junior worlds, Snyder elected to go in the senior division, making history as he won the US Open and US Team Trials. He then shocked the world by winning a world title in September, 2015.

The Ohio State coaches had no trouble suggesting to Kyle that he redshirt from Ohio State to concentrate solely on the Olympics, meaning Ohio State would try to defend its NCAA title without the volume of points that surely would come from a runner-up from 2015.

I ran into Coach Ryan at the US Open in Las Vegas in December, 2015. Because of the Olympic schedule the Open was being held before the end of the collegiate season so that the Olympic Trials could take place to provide a decent gap between the start of the Olympics.

Coach Ryan held a secret. With the success of Tomasello and Buckeye brothers Bo and Micah Jordan, Ryan knew things could be looking up, especially if Hunter Stieber could return from his elbow injuries (a possibility that, like an OSU repeat, never materialized). He revealed he was planning to pull the redshirt of freshman sensation Myles Martin (a prescient move–Martin himself would stun wrestling fans by winning a national title a few months later).

But Ryan was not done. He smiled as I tried to guess what else he had in mind. Kyle Snyder had bigger fish to fry, and besides, he could not get down to 197 pounds in March to compete at 213.4 pounds at the Olympic Trials the next month. That would crazy. I nearly swallowed my tongue when Ryan whispered Kyle was coming back at 285! Kyle Snyder is awesome, but a 213 pound wrestler competing at 285 is kind of like a 125 pounder competing at 174. “No $%&0 way man! You’re nuts!”

But that is what Snyder did. He won a few regular season matches and then breezed through the B1G brackets to face Michigan’s highly successful Adam Coon. At a muscular and towering 6’5″ Coon was an NCAA runner-up the year before. In the B1G finals, Snyder simply took the taller Coon down with ankle picks time and time again to head to the NCAA championships in Madison Square Garden as a B1G champion.

What could have been a better script? The most iconic arena in America. The youngest world champion in US history, potentially facing two time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State. Nearly as tall as Coon but twice as strong. As good as Snyder obviously is, not many really gave him a chance against Gwiz.

The two breezed to the finals, and in recognition of the magnitude of the event, a heavyweight match was set up as the true ultimate finale. In what many believe is the greatest collegiate heavyweight match of all time, Snyder seemed overpowered at first. He was able to get to Gwiz’ legs with ease, but the hulking Wolfpack defending champ would easily muscle out.

As the match wound down to its final 30 seconds Snyder trailed by 2. At this point, the one physical advantage Snyder had–conditioning–was starting to emerge. But Snyder knew if he took Gwiz down too soon, he would not have the strength to hold on. Think about that–a wrestler in need of points at the end of the match, waited until the final seconds to strike. Usually wrestlers are in a frantic panic to strike as the seconds tick away. But such is the confidence and skill of Snyder who proceeded to do just that to send the match into overtime.

In overtime, Snyder was able to get to Gwiazdowski’s legs, but this time Gwiz was without the energy to work his way out. When a torso flip failed, Gwiz gave into reality, relaxed his grip and surrendered the match losing sudden death points to Snyder.

Nearby is an instant Ohio State classic photo. In it are Snyder and Gwiz as the winning takedown is given. Coach Thatcher can be seen leaping into the rafters. And there is Coach Ryan, pointing and running in youthful and unbounded joy. While Coach Ryan has witnessed exhilarating highs, he has also felt the devastating lows life can deliver.

Kyle Snyder, NCAA 2016

When Kyle Snyder committed to come to Ohio State he wanted to put a smile on his coach’s face. You can be sure this picture embraces all he could have wanted to achieve in college as his coach expresses the indescribable high Kyle’s enormous talent has brought.

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