Interview by Curt Heinrichs
Curt Heinrichs: Thanks again for taking some time to speak with me. This past weekend, you had what’s become a tradition for the wrestling Buckeyes, and had a home match on the road, so to speak. How did that tradition come about?
Tom Ryan: We just felt that in the business that we’re in, which is serving our community, why would we not take our show on the road to various high schools and communities around the state. The central focus is a current wrestler that’s been a standout for us, and that was a bunch of them. We’ve got Cody Magrum (Senior 184 lbs) and Drew Stone (Sophomore 125 lbs) and we had the Bergmans (JD and Wes). Going to Oak Harbor was an easy choice.
CH: It also has to help that the community of Oak Harbor is absolutely nuts about wrestling, too.
TR: That’s right. That sure did factor into the decision.
CH: Your Buckeyes took on a tough Illinois team and the Buckeyes were able to win 7 of the 10 matches en route to a 25-9 victory. I spoke with Coach Jaggers following the match, but what were some things that you saw that you liked?
TR: I think a lot of the critical matches went our way. Not all of them, but a lot of the critical matches. Whether it was the crowd or whatever it was, we were able to win in critical positions and the energy from the crowd certainly helped. I think that Logan Stieber being back in the lineup was a boost for everybody (defending National Champion Stieber had been out of the lineup for several weeks with a leg injury). Overall, we wrestled well and came out on top.
CH: One of the matches I noticed was at 174 with Nick Heflin beating Jordan Blanton in a matchup of top 10 wrestlers. From top to bottom, the Big Ten is absolutely ridiculous at 174 (at the time of this match, 8 of the top 10 wrestlers in the country at 174 lbs were from the Big Ten). Maybe with Nick getting the late victory, is that something that will help with seeding at the Big Ten Tournament?
TR: It’s not so much with seeding, but it will help him mentally. He’s had a couple of wins over top opponents and a couple of losses to tough opponents. Nick’s coming off of a pretty significant hand injury. He was out for 6 weeks and has been back for 3 now, so we’re seeing the results of consistent training. I think Nick believes he can win a national championship, and a win like that will only help his confidence. We’re really happy that Nick pulled out a big win there.
CH: Speaking of the Big Ten Tournament, Freshman Kenny Courts was able to knock off Gonzalez, who was the defending Big Ten champ at 197 lbs. Do you see Kenny sticking in that role, or will we see Andrew Campolattano come back in the lineup at 197?
TR: Andrew isn’t healthy right now, so we don’t have a choice other than to go with Kenny. Kenny wasn’t a strategic choice to put in there, but that was the way it worked. Andrew is hurt, Kenny is a 184 pounder who was willing to step up and ended up beating the defending Big Ten champion. Kenny is wrestling well and you’ll see him in that spot this weekend. The thing about Kenny is that he weighed in at 184 and wrestled 197. He didn’t wrestle a full match, which is unacceptable for the kind of conditioning we like our guys to have. He found a way to win, and we’re happy with that.
CH: Any time you’re up 8-0 after the 1st minute, that’s a pretty good start to your match. Looking forward, the Buckeyes have 2 duals this weekend, starting on the road at Michigan on Friday and on Sunday at home against Penn State. What’s that like for these guys, having to make weight 2 times in a weekend. Does that wear on the wrestlers, especially with a day off in between?
TR: I think that compared to some things in life, this isn’t so tough. You’ve got to make weight twice, travel to Michigan, and come back home to wrestle Penn State on Sunday. We try to keep it in perspective. There are a lot of people in the world with tougher things to do than weigh in on Friday and Sunday. The bottom line is that we’re looking for incredible performances at this time of year. Michigan is obviously the big rivalry for Ohio State. That’s going to be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network, and after that, we’ll get a chance to beat Penn State. First things first is Michigan. It’s a big match and we’re looking forward to it.
CH: Since you mentioned it, Michigan has been down in the past couple of years. Does that maybe take some of the intensity from that rivalry, or is it still first and foremost?
TR: It’ll always be important. They were ranked as high as #11 before they dropped. They have the same group of guys, and as we’ve seen in college wrestling, matchups are absolutely critical. Penn State was #1 and Iowa was #3 last weekend, but the matchups really favored Iowa. In this duel, we’re favored, but if we take these guys lightly it could be close. If we go in there and hold our ground, we can score some bonus points here and there and win the match.
CH: If you wouldn’t mind, let’s break down the key matches between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines.
TR: Well there are 10 weight classes and we’re going to be heavily favored in 4 of them. Does that mean that we’ll absolutely win those? No, but we have a great shot. At 133 (Logan Stieber), 141 (Hunter Stieber), at 157 (Josh Demas), and at 184 (CJ Magrum). We should be able to pick up some bonus points in those matches. To win the dual, we’ll need 1 more win. At 125, we’ll have Boyle (UM) vs Triggas in what is going to be a critical match. They’re both tough and both are capable of a big win. At 149, that’s actually a rematch of the 3rd place match of last year’s Big Ten Championships. Both guys won 4 state titles in high school, both are not accustomed to losing, so (Eric) Grajales (UM) and (Cam) Tessari is going to be a big one. The 174 lb match is the next big one with Heflin and Yates. We’re probably favored a little bit there, but Yates is a tough competitor. At 197 with Huntley and Courts should be outstanding. In order for us to lose, we’ll need to lose all of those and probably heavyweight, which is a weight where we’re probably favored. The dual meet looks like we’re favored, but that’s why we wrestle, right?
CH: You’ve got Penn State at home on Sunday. They were beaten at #3 Iowa last weekend, but held on to the #1 ranking this week. Let’s talk about that match up.
TR: I would say that against Penn State, we’re in the same type of position that Michigan is in against us. Is it winnable? Yes. Do a lot of things have to go our way? Yes. You know that in sporting events every day, things have to go the right way. We’ve got to get the crowd involved early on.
Nikko Triggas (AA for the Buckeyes) and Nico Megaludus (NCAA runnerup as a freshman last year for PSU) is a big match, and we have to win that match.
At 133 and 141, we’re going to need bonus points. If you look at the Penn State lineup, those are tough kids, hard-working kids, but they’re not at the level of the rest of the team.
At 149, we’ve got to win. They’re slightly favored at 149 and 157 (with twins #8 Andrew and #5 Dylan Alton) with the Alton brothers against our Tessari and Demas. We’ve got to have wins at those weight classes.
At 165, they have the David Taylor Special. Mark Martin is our freshman against a 4th year junior. We’ve just got to hold our ground and keep the match close like he did against (Illinois’ Conrad) Polz and try not to give up bonus points. If it goes our way, it’ll come down to bonus points.
At 174, we’ve got another huge match that we’ve got to have. They’ve got (Matt) Brown, who is a competitor and a goer. He was ranked as high as 4th or 5th against Heflin. Ohio State has to win at 174 to be able to win the match .
At 184, Penn State has Ed Ruth, who is probably one of the best wrestlers in college wrestling. We’ve got to hold our ground there and Cody has to stay gritty and keep the match close.
At 197, the match is interesting because they have (Quentin) Wright who could win the national tournament. We’re probably favored at the lower weights, but they’ve got the edge in the upper weights.
At heavyweight, there’s another critical match that we’ve got to have. Heavyweight, 174, 157, 149, 141, 133, and even 125. If we win those matches, we win the dual.
CH: I spoke with Cam (Tessari) last Friday night, and he mentioned he’s going to try and “peak in March.” That’s a familiar sentiment for a lot of guys, but what can you do as a staff to help guys wrestle their best in the postseason?
TR: Training picks up and we know it’s been a long season. The goal is to be at their best in March and the training changes quite a bit, which is the biggest thing. We start to shorten workouts and focus on technique and individual strengths and weaknesses. We want to make sure that guys’ strengths are super strengths and the holes in their games close up. When you’ve great athletes and guys that want to win and know how to win, they achieve when it matters the most. I think Cam is one of those guys. He was an All-American last year and we think he can do it again this year.
CH: I was especially impressed when he lost his first match at Nationals last year and won 7 straight to finish as an All-American.
You have an exceptionally young team. Is youth an advantage that’s on your side or does that youth expose itself as the season wears on?
TR: I don’t think so. I think that every year in high school, matches are so competitive and there are so many great kids coming into college. It’s really competitive. We have a great group of young guys and each of them want to win a national championship for this institution. Overall, I’d think the older a guy gets, the better he gets. The future is bright with our young team winning as young guys. We’re only going to improve in coming years.
CH: As we mentioned before, you have coach J Jaggers on your staff who has been at the top of the NCAA podium a couple of times recently. How has J as a coach an asset to these young guys who’d like to get there for themselves?
TR: J brings the “I did it” factor. He was a 3 time Academic All-American and a 2 time National Champion. He is a tremendous coach who is good in all positions. He is an incredible asset for our staff. He’s an X factor for us and we’re happy to have him as a coach.
CH: The last question for you tonight deals with recruiting. It was announced that this week, the Buckeyes got the commitment from maybe not one of the biggest names, but certainly one you were glad to land. I’m talking about your son, Jake Ryan. What does it mean for you to have your son to further his career and join your team in the wrestling room?
TR: It means a tremendous amount to me. I’m blessed that he has developed a love for the sport. He started late and really only started in 9th grade. He really fell in love with the sport. He’s got a great high school coach and he’s going to really help this team push for a national championship. I’m proud of him and I’m glad he decided to stay home and wrestle for the Bucks.