Preview by Curt Heinrichs
The Buckeye wrestling team cashed in at the 100th Big Ten tournament this past weekend and several Buckeyes found themselves in great position for the upcoming NCAA tournament due to their placement. A pair of wrestlers won Big Ten titles with Logan Stieber capturing his 3rd overall title at 141 lbs and Nick Heflin winning his first title at 197 lbs. Eight of Tom Ryan’s wrestlers placed at the Big Ten tournament, and all 8 earned bids to the NCAA tournament, which takes place March 20-22 in Oklahoma City.
Seven Buckeyes earned automatic bids based on spots allotted to their weight class in the Big Ten, while Ian Paddock did enough during the regular season to merit an at-large trip at 149 lbs.
After winning his first Big Ten championship, redshirt senior Nick Heflin managed to earn the No. 1 seed at 197 lbs. Heflin carries a record of 24-1 into the NCAA tournament, and is hoping to add to his 2 All-American finishes (wrestlers who finish in the top 8 at the NCAA tournament in each weight class achieve All-American status) with an NCAA title. Heflin will take on Paul Rands of Navy in the opening round and should be relatively unscathed until he likely meets either No. 5 Kyven Gadson (who could merit the top seed himself with only 1 loss on the season) or No. 4 seeded Scott Schiller in the semifinals.
Also winning a Big Ten title was Logan Stieber, who avenged his only loss of the 2013-14 season in the finals by beating Penn State’s Zain Retherford. Like Heflin, Stieber is no stranger to success at the NCAA tournament, having won it each of the past 2 seasons. Stieber earned the No. 2 seed in the 141 lb bracket behind Mitchell Port of Edinboro, whose undefeated record gained him the top spot. Stieber will square off with Missouri’s Lavion Mayes in the first round.
Nick Roberts earned his first trip to the NCAA tournament with his 6th place finish at the Big Ten tournament. The redshirt freshman drew the No. 5 seeded Dylan Peters of Northern Iowa in the opening round. Defending NCAA champion and 2 time Big Ten Champion Jesse Delgado of Illinois earned the top seed in the 125 lb division over No. 2 Nahshon Garret of Cornell.
With a 6th place finish at the Big Ten tournament, Johnni DiJulius ( 133 lbs) earned his 2nd trip to the NCAA Tournament in his 2nd year of competition. After being ranked in the Top 5 for a great deal of the season, DiJulius slipped a bit, racking up seven losses along the way. DiJulius earned the 9th overall seed at Nationals and will meet Maryland’s Tyler Goodwin on Thursday. If he were to defeat Minnesota’s David Thorn in the Round of 16, JDJ would likely meet top-seeded Joe Colon in the quarterfinals. This match is significant because DiJulius is the only one to defeat Colon so far this season.
Ian Paddock’s 7th place finish at the Big Ten tournament wasn’t enough to earn him one of the 6 automatic bids allotted to the Big Ten at 149 lbs, but his body of work throughout the year earned him his 4th career trip to the NCAA tournament. Paddock will meet the beatable Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State in the 1st round. Drake Houdashelt of Missouri was able to dodge many of the possible pitfalls that have plagued most of the top competitors and he’s earned the number one seed.
Buckeyes Randy Languis (157 lbs) and Joe Grandominico (165 lbs) were not able to earn automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, and neither was granted one of the 4 at-large bids in their respective weight classes. Languis still has remaining eligibility, but Grandominico’s collegiate wrestling career has now ended. Nebraska’s James Green earned the No. 1 seed at 157 lbs and Penn State’s David Taylor earned the top seed at 165 lbs.
Mark Martin nabbed one of 7 automatic spots earned by the Big Ten with a 7th place finish at the Big Ten tournament. Martin was awarded the No. 14 seed in the 174 lb bracket, and will face Rider’s Connor Brennan in the opening action. The 174 lb division features a pair of former NCAA champions in top seeded Chris Perry of Oklahoma State and Andrew Howe of Oklahoma (formerly an NCAA champ for Wisconsin before transferring to the Great Plains), with Perry earning the top seed by defeating Howe in the Big Twelve (a misnomer as the conference only has 4 schools with wrestling programs) Championships.
With his 5th place finish at the Big Ten Championships, Kenny Courts earned one of the Big Ten’s seven automatic qualifier spots to the NCAA Championships. After a season where he went 29-7, Courts earned the 10th seed in the 184 lb bracket, and is slated to face Kurtis Julson of North Dakota State in the opening round. Courts is in an unfavorable position because if he can defeat Steinhaus of Minnesota in the Round of 16, he’ll almost certainly face two time NCAA champ Ed Ruth in the quarterfinals. Undefeated Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland earned the top seed over Ruth.
With a dynamite performance in winning the Big Ten title at 197 lbs, Nick Heflin was awarded the top overall seed. Heflin’s seed rattled some cages as many pundits believed Kyven Gadson of Iowa State should have earned the top spot despite having 2 losses and fewer quality wins than Heflin. At any rate, Heflin will meet Navy’s Paul Rands in the opening round on Thursday afternoon. J’Den Cox of Missouri took the 2nd overall seed in the 197 lb weight class.
In one of the most unbelievable heavyweight brackets of recent memory, Buckeye big man Nick Tavanello continued his hot streak with an 8th place finish in the stacked Big Ten. In his first trip to the NCAA tournament, Tav will face fellow Ohioan Ty Walz in the pigtail of the heavyweight division (in wrestling, a pigtail or rattail is similar to the play-in game in the NCAA basketball tournament). Tavanello has history with Walz, with a pair of previous wins over the Virginia Tech Hokie. The winner between Tavanello and Walz will face 8th seeded J.T. Felix of Boise State in the first round. After slipping up for a period during the regular season, two-time NCAA champion Tony Nelson of Minnesota returned to form with a 3rd Big Ten title and earned the top seed in the process.
The NCAA Wrestling Championships will take place starting Thursday and will run until Saturday evening. ESPN will air all of the rounds of the tournament, and the televised schedule can be found HERE.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back this weekend for updates as the Buckeyes look to finish out the season on a high note.