By Curt Heinrichs
After two full days of action at the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City, only 20 wrestlers are still in the running for 10 individual titles. Of the 20 wrestlers, two of them are Buckeyes as Logan Stieber and Nick Heflin will look to write their names in the history books. A win in the championships would give Stieber his third NCAA title, while Heflin is looking for his first after a pair of previous All-American (Top 8) finishes.
Despite sending eight wrestlers to the championships, the Buckeyes only managed to place the aforementioned pair, although Kenny Courts and Nick Tavanello were only a match away from earning All-American status.
Entering the tournament on the heels of his 3rd Big Ten title, Logan Stieber was one of the obvious front-runners in the 141 lb bracket. Stieber avenged his only loss in nearly two years to Zain Retherford of Penn State in the Big Ten finals two weeks ago and immediately set his sights on NCAA title number 3. Seeded second (behind Edinboro’s Mitch Port), Stieber cruised in the early rounds, racking up a pair of pins and a tech fall before a rematch with Retherford in the semifinals. Stieber once again defeated the Nittany Lion 7-3 to advance to the NCAA Championship match on Saturday night. Stieber will face feel-good story Devin Carter of Virginia Tech in the finals. Carter and Stieber were discussed early in the season as the pair most likely to vie for the title, but then Carter suffered a horrendous hamstring injury that required surgery in December. Defying the odds, Carter returned to win the ACC Championship and now finds himself in the NCAA finals.
After a pair of All-American finishes at 174 lbs, Nick Heflin made the move to 197 lbs with the goal of becoming the NCAA champion and now finds himself just one victory away from achieving that goal. Heflin came into the tournament seeded No. 1 at 197 lbs after winning his first Big Ten title. Heflin had an unconventional route to the title as his first two opponents withdrew due to injury. In the quarterfinals, Heflin defeated Binghamton’s Cody Reed 8-1 before meeting old foe Scott Schiller of Minnesota in the semifinals. Heflin once again defeated Schiller, though not as convincingly as before with a 2-1 victory in the top/bottom tiebreaker period. Heflin was able to ride Schiller for his 30 seconds and earn a quick escape to punch his ticket to the NCAA finals. Heflin will meet No. 2 seeded J’Den Cox of Missouri, who is just a freshman.
As mentioned, the Buckeyes sent an impressive eight wrestlers to the championships, but only Stieber and Heflin managed to place in the top eight.
Nick Roberts competed in his first NCAA championships as a redshirt freshman at 125 lbs and was eliminated early on. Roberts lost in the opening round, won his first match in the wrestlebacks, and then was eliminated by Robert Deutsch of Rider.
Coming into the tournament as the ninth seed at 133 lbs, Johnni DiJulius had high hopes to earn his first All-American finish, but a place on the podium just wasn’t in the cards for the Buckeye sophomore. DiJulius won his first round match before losing to Minnesota’s David Thorn 2-0. JDJ was able to defeat Gustafson of Virginia Tech in the wrestlebacks before losing an uneventful bout to Mark Grey of Cornell to be eliminated from the competition.
Competing in his final tournament as a Buckeye, Ian Paddock hoped to make good on his fourth trip to the NCAA championships with an All-American placement. Paddock fell in the opening round to eventual finalist Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State. Paddock then lost to Barber of North Carolina, putting a wrap on his outstanding career for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State did not qualify wrestlers at 157 lbs or 165 lbs.
Ohio native Mark Martin took his second crack at the NCAA tournament in as many years, but once again fell short of the podium. Seeded No. 14, Martin lost in the opening round to Conor Brennan of Rider. Martin then knocked off Scheffel of West Virginia in the wrestlebacks before Dessino of Bloomburg ended his run.
Highly-touted 184 lber Kenny Courts advanced to the placement round (the blood round to many wrestling fans because the wrestling is extra-intense between guys vying for an All-American finish), but was unable to advance to the podium. Courts won his opening round bout before losing to Steinhaus of Minnesota. Courts then defeated a pair of Big Ten foes to be one victory from placement. In the blood round, Courts lost to Ophir Bernstein of Brown to end his season.
Freshman heavyweight Nick Tavanello got hot at the end of the season and wound up just 1 match from earning All-American status. Tav’s road wasn’t easy, as he lost in the pigtail to Walz from Virginia Tech. Tavanello then utilized two straight pins followed by a pair of 2 point decisions to find himself in the blood round against MSU’s Mike McClure. McClure was too much for Tavanello, defeating the Buckeye 10-2 and ending his first campaign as a Buckeye.
At the conclusion of the semifinal round, the Buckeyes currently sit in 5th place as a team while Penn State, Minnesota, and Oklahoma State are all locked in a tough battle for the team title.
The finals, which will air tonight at 8 PM on ESPN, will feature the following matchups:
125 lbs- No. 1 Jesse Delgado (Illinois) vs No. 2 Nahshon Garrett (Cornell)
133 lbs- No. 3 Tony Ramos (Iowa) vs No. 5 Tyler Graff (Wisconsin)
141 lbs- No. 2 Logan Stieber (Ohio State) vs No. 4 Devin Carter (Virginia Tech)
149 lbs- No. 5 Jason Tsirtsis (Northwestern) vs No. 11 Josh Kindig (Oklahoma State)
157 lbs- No. 3 Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State) vs No. 9 Dylan Ness (Minnesota)
165 lbs- No. 1 David Taylor (Penn State) vs No. 2 Tyler Caldwell (Oklahoma State)
174 lbs- No. 1 Chris Perry (Oklahoma State) vs No. 2 Andrew Howe (Oklahoma)
184 lbs- No. 1 Jimmy Sheptock (Maryland) vs No. 2 Ed Ruth (Penn State)
197 lbs- No. 1 Nick Heflin (Ohio State) vs No. 2 J’Den Cox (Missouri)
285 lbs- No. 1 Tony Nelson (Minnesota) vs No. 2 Nick Gwiazdowski (NC State)