Recap by Curt Heinrichs
After 2 days of the most intense wrestling in the country, the wrestling Buckeyes had lots of reasons to celebrate; 7 Buckeyes are guaranteed a spot at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City. As a team, the Buckeyes finished in 4th place and a pair of Buckeyes took the top spot in the Big Ten with 1st place finishes on the weekend.
At 125 lbs, Nick Roberts punched his ticket to the NCAA Championships with a 6th place finish. Seeded 8th, Roberts dropped his first match to Nico Megaludis of Penn State before battling back to snag one of the 7 automatic qualifying spots. Roberts pinned Sam Brancale of Minnesota and defeated Conor Youtsey of TSUN before falling to Cory Clark of Iowa in the consolation semifinals. Roberts then wrestled in the 5th place match, but lost to familiar foe Tim Lambert of Nebraska by 2nd period pin. In the championship match, Jesse Delgado and Nico Megaludis had a marathon match that was a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament final, with Delgado again coming out the victor. Advancing to the NCAA Championships were Big Ten Champion Jesse Delgado of Illinois, runner up Nico Megaludis of Penn State, Ryan Taylor of Wisconsin, Cory Clark of Iowa, Tim Lambert of Nebraska, Roberts, and Conor Youtsey of U of M.
Seeded 6th, redshirt sophomore Johnni DiJulius kept his season alive with a 6th place finish to advance to his 2nd NCAA Championships. JDJ started hot with a 6-0 win over Duca of Indiana, but ran into Thorn of Minnesota in the quarterfinals and lost to the Golden Gopher for the 2nd time this season. DiJulius then rattled off 2 decision wins before falling to Cashe Quiroga of Purdue in the consolation semifinals. Quiroga beat DiJulius in the dual earlier in the season, but the loss this weekend stung worse, as it cost JDJ a higher seed at the national tournament. Johnni then lost 10-4 to Zane Richards of Illinois in the 5th place match. In the 133 lb championship match, Tony Ramos of Iowa finally won his first Big Ten title after a pair of runner-up finishes with a 2-1 victory over Tyler Graff of Wisconsin. In addition to Ramos and Graff, also qualifying for the NCAA Tournament were Quiroga, Thorn, Richards, DiJulius, Jimmy Gulibon of Penn State, and Dominick Malone of Northwestern.
In his first chance to avenge his first loss since 2012, Logan Stieber made good on the opportunity with a 7-3 win over Zain Retherford of Penn State. Retherford had gotten the upper hand in December when the two met, but Stieber would not be denied in the rematch, scoring a quick takedown and riding tough on top. In his 26 matches this season, the only 2 that Stieber has not won by bonus points have been matches against Retherford. En route to the finals, Stieber dominated Illinois’ Steven Rodrigues by Tech Fall and Chris Dardanes of Minnesota by major decision. Joining Stieber and Retherford in Oklahoma City in 2 weeks will be Dardanes, Steven Dutton of TSUN, Josh Dziewa of Iowa, and Rodrigues.
Looking to earn his 4th career trip to the NCAA tournament, Ian Paddock took his crack at the Big Ten field from the 6th seed. The Big Ten was awarded 6 automatic qualifiers, thus putting the pressure on Paddock to live up to his seed. Paddock wrestled well on Saturday night, defeating Caleb Ervin of Illinois before losing to eventual champion Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern 3-2. With his work cut out for him Paddock earned a decision win over Roach of Indiana before dropping a close match to James English of Penn State. In what could be his last match as a college wrestler, Paddock put on a show against Caleb Ervin with a 15-3 major decision to earn 7th place. In the championship match, 3rd seeded Tsirtsis took out Nebraska’s Jake Sueflohn by the score of 6-2. Also qualifying with Tsirtsis and Sueflohn are Nick Dardanes of Minnesota, Eric Grajales of TSUN, English, and Rylan Lubeck of Wisconsin. With his 7th place finish and wins over Grajales and Lubeck this season, Paddock stands a fighting chance of earning one of the 4 additional invites to the tournament.
Competing in one of the more unpredictable weight classes, Randy Languis knew that he had his work cut out for him at 157 lbs. With 8 automatic berths to the NCAA tournament, this weight class was recognized as one of the top classes in the Big Ten. Languis lost to pinning machine Taylor Walsh of Indiana (though not by fall) and Dylan Alton of Penn State. Due to the depth of the weight class, the Big Ten contested additional matches, and Languis took advantage of the chance, earning wins over Benj Sullivan and Alex Griffin to earn 9th place. In the championship bout, Nebraska’s James Green once again took out defending NCAA champ Derek St. John with a 7-4 decision. Joining Green and DSJ in OKC will be Isaac Jordan of Wisconsin, Brian Murphy of TSUN, Walsh, Dylan Ness of Minnesota, Zach Brunson of Illinois, and Alton.
Joe Grandominico set out to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament in his last chance as a Buckeye, but the Olentangy native fell short in the bid. Grandominico lost to Ryan Leblanc of Indiana and then Austin Wilson of Nebraska to close the book on his career. In the championship match, David Taylor earned his 4th Big Ten championship with a major decision over Iowa’s Nick Moore. Taylor is just the 12th 4 time Big Ten champion in the 100 years of Big Ten Wrestling and has never lost to a Big Ten opponent. Chasing Taylor in his bid for a 2nd NCAA title and 4th final appearance are Moore, Danny Zilverberg of Minnesota (who put together an outstanding tournament, being seeded 6th and placing 3rd), Pierce Harger of Northwestern, Jackson Morse of Illinois, Wilson, Dan Yates of TSUN, and Ryan Leblanc of Indiana. If you didn’t get a chance to watch the action live, BTN will be reairing the finals throughout the week. David Taylor put on a ridiculous display in the finals, pulling off moves that I didn’t even know could be executed at such a high level. The guy is unbelievable and should cruise to his 2nd title.
As I’d mentioned in my preview, the 174 lb class could have played out in a variety of ways with 7 automatic bids to the NCAA tournament on the line. Mark Martin represented the Buckeyes and advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Mike Evans of Iowa. Martin won a match in each the championship and consolation bracket before falling in both. Martin faced Brandon Zeerip of TSUN in the 7th place match with a trip to the NCAA Championships on the line. Martin prevailed by the score of 6-2 and earned his 2nd trip to the NCAA tournament in as many years. In the championship match, Nebraska junior Robert Kokesh edged Mike “Mr. Moustache” Evans of Iowa 6-4 in a match that won’t be an instant classic now or in the future. In addition to Kokesh and Evans, qualifying for the NCAA tournament were Matt Brown of Penn State, Logan Storley of Minnesota, Tony Dallago of Illinois, Scott Liegel of Wisconsin, and Martin.
Coming back on short notice from a knee injury, Kenny Courts wrestled well and snared one of the Big Ten’s 7 automatic bids to the NCAA Championships. Courts again beat John Rizqallah of MSU before dropping a decision to Ethan Lofthouse from Iowa. Courts then defeated Jacob Berkowitz and Luke Sheridan before falling to Domenic Abounader of TSUN (and a high school teammate of Mark Martin at St. Edward HS in Lakewood). Courts rolled on Nikko Reyes of Illinois in the 5th place match with a 16-6 major decision and finished in 5th place in his first crack at the Big Ten Championships (Courts wrestled much of the year last season and was beaten out by CJ Magrum prior to the Big Ten’s). In the title match, Ed Ruth followed up on David Taylor’s performance by winning his 4th Big Ten individual (and team) championship. Ruth beat Lofthouse 10-2 with a frenzied attack from the neutral position. Ruth made his takedowns look effortless and controlled Lofthouse from the top position. Earning automatic bids along with Ruth and Lofthouse were Abounader, Kevin Steinhaus of Minnesota, Courts, Reyes, and Rizqallah.
In what I thought was a bold move, Nick Heflin changed his Twitter handle to @TheDarkhorse197 last year and not-so-subtly stated that he could be a force at 197 lbs this year. Heflin delivered on the bold proclamation by winning his first ever Big Ten title on Sunday. Heflin had finished 2nd as a freshman, but hadn’t finished higher than 5th in the past 2 years. Entering the tournament with only 1 loss in the 2013-14 campaign, Heflin earned a #2 seed and made short work over Alex Polizzi of Northwestern in the quarterfinals with a 1:08 pin. A rematch with Scott Schiller in the semis ended the same as the last one, with Heflin earning a decision. In the finals, Heflin and Morgan McIntosh proved that the seeds were accurate as they showed how evenly matched they were for over 9 minutes. As the 2nd sudden victory period wound down, Heflin countered a shot attempt by McIntosh with a smooth go-behind and earned a 5-3 victory. Heflin may have earned a #2 or #3 seed at the NCAA Championships with his Big Ten title. Joining Heflin and McIntosh in Oklahoma City are Schiller, Polizzi, Nathan Burak of Iowa, Purdue’s Braden Atwood, Timmy McCall of Wisconsin (who was the only wrestler to have defeated Heflin in the regular season), and former Big Ten Champ Mario Gonzalez of Illinois, who only wrestled when necessary to earn a trip to OKC before defaulting due to injury.
The heavyweight class at the Big Ten tournament featured some of the top wrestlers in the country and featured one of the biggest upsets of the entire weekend. With 9 automatic qualifier spots on the table the biggest Buckeye Nick Tavanello had a fighting chance at taking a trip to the NCAA tournament. While I was skeptical once I saw the bracketing, Tavanello impressed me by wrestling his best matches of the season. After losing his first match of the tournament to Connor Medbery of Wisconsin, the deck was stacked against Tav as he was to face the loser of #1 seed Adam Coon of TSUN and the mighty Jon Gingrich of Penn State. Gingrich pulled off the upset of the formerly #1 ranked Coon, which matched Tav against Coon. Tavanello earned a huge 6-5 win over the Wolverine to punch his ticket to the NCAA’s. A loss to Bobby Telford of Iowa and another loss to Medbery earned Tavanello 8th place. Coon came back and won 2 more matches and will qualify for the tournament with a 9th place finish. In the heavyweight final, 2 time NCAA champ Tony Nelson won his 3rd Big Ten title (in his 4th finals appearance) over Adam Chalfant of Indiana. Joining Nelson and Chalfant will be Telford, Mike McClure of MSU, Mike McMullan of Northwestern (last year’s NCAA runner-up to Nelson), Gingrich, Medbery, Tavanello, and Coon.
The team championship was locked up early in the afternoon with Penn State winning their 4th consecutive title. The Nittany Lions scored 140.5 points, out striping Iowa, who finished with 134. Minnesota came in 3rd place with 114.5 and the Buckeyes finished a distant 4th place with 86.5. Nebraska was the nearest finisher to the Scarlet and Gray with 79 points on the weekend. Rounding out the team placement were Illinois, host Wisconsin Badgers, TSUN, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, and finally MSU.
The NCAA Championships will take place in Oklahoma City starting on Thursday, March 20th. ESPN and their wide variety of networks will televise all of the action from the NCAA tournament, either on TV or on the ESPN 3 streaming site. Seeding and brackets will be released this Wednesday, so be sure to check back for my thoughts on the Buckeyes’ chances at the podium.
Thanks for reading.