Kyle Snyder just turned 21. He also just cashed a $250,000 check for winning an Olympic gold medal. So it was kind of hysterical when the Buckeye sophomore recently tweeted: “Mark my words. The first year I have my own house I will have the world’s greatest Christmas lights show. People will travel miles to see.”
The symbolism is not lost on wrestling fans who travel miles to see Kyle light up opponents. As he usually does, and as he did Thursday night with a thunderous pin to end a big Ohio State 30-9 win over fifth ranked Missouri. Often, in a match like this, the fun is over long before the heavyweight match and only a few stragglers would remain. But, now, everyone stays to see the Snyder light display, and leave well pleased with themselves for having done so.
Despite the hype of the match-up involving two Olympians—a college wrestling first—and the fourth and fifth ranked teams, the story that could have prevailed might have been simply injuries. Ohio State has lost its new star, Ke-Shawn Hayes for the year. And Missouri rolled into town looking more like wards of a mobile army hospital. Ranked starters at 125, 149 and 184 did not take the mat.
But out of nowhere, the story really became one, not so much about the winning, but the lessons in the failing to win.
Before Snyder hit the mat, Missouri’s J’Den Cox, he of two NCAA championships and an Olympic bronze went into his 197 lb match against Buckeye freshman Kollin Moore. The two had never met before. While Cox respected Moore’s rapid rise following a summer in which Moore represented the US at the Junior World Championship, he had no reason to think Moore would pose more than a speed bump.
On the other hand, when Moore hit a deep double leg within the first 10 seconds, only to see Cox fight to athletically spin out of grasp, Moore must have wondered how far in over his head he had waded. A Cox takedown, a dominant ride and a later escape had him with a 4-0 virtual lead. With the domination total and the lead safe, the match was coming to a non-climactic end when Cox hit what looked like a sure takedown of his beleaguered younger opponent. But suddenly there was Moore, holding the magic, avoiding the takedown and sitting out to a neutral position. And there was Moore again, instantly seizing a single leg on Cox who was staving off a takedown only because of a gymnast quality front and back leg split.
Giving up on reeling the front leg in, Moore came over the top and got just behind a rising Cox to score a takedown on the mat’s end. Moore then threw a thunderbolt of an extended inside trip to take the great Cox down a second time. But for riding time, the score would have been tied. While there was still time for an escape and a takedown—that is to say, a third in 80 seconds—that was just too much to ask against one of the best wrestlers on the planet.
For the first time in Ohio State history, the meet ending “Russ Hellickson Award” for toughest OSU wrestler at a home meet went to one who failed to win.
But on a night when winning seemed as if it would be destined to be the theme, this was only the last time a non-winner would stand tall. Bo Jordan is a two time third place NCAA finisher. Wrestling for the first time in a varsity match this year, Bo was doing at 174 what he did at 165 last —overpowering and exhausting opponents to the point where they just want the match to end, no matter how.
As Bo had done repeatedly in the match, he stalked freshman Dylan Wisman knowing that when Wisman could back up no further, Jordan would snatch a leg and start inflicting punishment. Except Wisman, unlike so many before him, wasn’t playing along. He snatched a single of his own to score a third period takedown and then had the impudence to turn right around and nearly do it again. We get so used to wrestlers giving up under such dominance—it was a beautiful thing to watch the fearless respect for the sport disrupt what seemed to be the destiny of the match.
And that was not the first time. Buckeye sophomore Cody Burcher had no right, on paper, to be competitive with Daniel Lewis at 165 pounds. Unflappable and methodic, it was Lewis who had extended Bo Jordan in the 2016 NCAA third place match at Madison Square Garden, losing 9-7.
But it is clear that Burcher, up two weight classes from 2016 is a greatly improved wrestler, as his 12-4 record might attest. Although he trailed 5-1 late in the match, the difference had not been great, and in the final thirty seconds he pushed with determination, nearly pulling off a dramatic takedown. Again, it is the pride and respect for the sport that showed up beautifully in an effort that did not result in a win.
What else did we learn? That even a weight up, Ohio State 133 pound Nathan Tomasello is one of the most relentless, forward charging wrestlers in college wrestling. He faced freshman Jaydin Eierman, a 5-0 lanky, volume scorer with a fierce reputation preceding him. Off the mat, Tomassello is as kind and thoughtful as anyone you’d meet. But somewhere he learned to summon what he calls anger when he wrestles. Which has been known to cost him and could have cost him against Eierman.
Before Nathan converted a couple of his beautiful spinning left handed high crotch takedowns, he had a moment off the mat that caused the arena to erupt. Extending to lift his opponent, Tomasello left the circle. Before he could hear the whistle he had lifted his opponent shoulder high. Upon realizing action had been stopped, he simply dropped Eierman, whereupon coaches lost their minds, grown adults raced across mats and partisans of both sides weighed in to the loudest extent their well-fed voices would permit them. The refs shrugged it off as a drop—and not an unsafe return to the mat. But Eierman ceased to be competitive from that moment on as Tomasello coasted to back points and a major win.
While we did not get the delicious match-up at 149 between Micah Jordan and Mizzou’s Lavion Mayes, we were treated to Jordan’s impressive repertoire and skills. We saw multiple shucks, duck unders, cradles, body control and athleticism. The increase in weight class seems to bode well for Jordan.
We also did not get to see Willie Miklus and Myles Martin go at 184. Miklus looked to have suffered a serious leg injury a few weeks back, and thus was unable to go against Martin, Ohio State’s NCAA champ at 174 last year (Martin won by second period technical fall). Jose Rodriguez continued his hot start with a close decision over Brecksville Ohio native, Missouri’s Aaron Asaad.
We also saw a game Luke Pletcher pull a redshirt and dive into his baptism a year early as Buckeye Hayes’ replacement. A highly ranked recruit Pletcher is very compact, and as such he will be vulnerable to cradles from lankier wrestlers such as the very talented Zach Synon. Synon’s strategy to use his leverage was visibly obvious. Yet young Pletcher narrowly won by keeping his head to fight off Synon’s determined spyderly attempts to wrap his prey.
We also got to see a very talented Joey Lavallee easily dispatch with Buckeye Jake Ryan at 157. Lavallee is undefeated in this year. Slick and quick, he started as a bit of a surprise, hidden behind a decent enough redshirt the previous season. So far the lesson seems to be he is not a guy overlooked any longer.
When you talk to the very best wrestlers, they routinely express no fear of losing. To them, “train your hardest, give your best, let the chips fall where they may. Don’t worry about the stress you put on another, learn from the stress you can put yourself under. Learn from failure. Advance from it.” So while the night was not all it could have promised, for the fan, it was a night full of revelations and was a testament to the sport and those who respect it.