Preview by Curt Heinrichs
This weekend, the Buckeye wrestling team will take the next step towards earning a National Title when they compete in the toughest conference tournament in the sport, the Big Ten Tournament. Since the NCAA released the number of automatic qualifiers for the national tournament a week ago and release of the Big Ten pre-seeds on Monday, I’ve been patiently waiting (as has Coach Mark Niemann) for the official brackets to be released so I can finally make my spit-ball predictions on the NCAA qualifiers from the Big Ten. The folks at INTERMAT offer further clarification on how the national qualifier allotments were determined as well as the full listing of the allotments.
At 125 lbs, Nikko Triggas will look to qualify for his 4th NCAA tournament and duplicate (or improve on) his 2010 performance where he earned All-American accolades. Fifth seeded Triggas will take on 4th seeded Michigan rs-Junior Sean Boyle in his first match at his final Big Ten tournament. Believe it or not, Nikko has wrestled for the Buckeyes since the 2007-2008 campaign, and has at last spent all of his eligibility. Triggas is 0-3 against Wolverine wrestlers this season, having lost 2 times early in the season to Conor Youtsey and once against Boyle in the dual meet early in February by a score of 2-1. Triggas looked uncomfortable against Boyle, but will look to correct that this time around. With a win, Triggas would likely find himself matched up with defending NCAA champion Matt McDonough of Iowa. In this stacked weight class, it’s likely that the Big Ten will earn 2 of the top 3 places at the NCAA tournament 2 weeks from now, so earning a trip to the tournament out of the Big Ten will put Triggas in a potentially lofty position when the tournament starts in Des Moines. To get to Des Moines, however, Triggas will have to finish in the top 7, which he should be able to do if he wrestles like he is capable.
At 133 lbs, defending NCAA Champion (and defending Big Ten Champion for that matter) Logan Stieber will continue his quest for a 2nd title at the Big Ten Tournament. Stieber is the #1 seeded wrestler for good reason and has earned bonus points in all of his matches this year with exception to 1. Look for the elder Stieber to cruise to the finals, where we could see a continuation of an excellent rivalry from last post-season. Iowa’s Tony Ramos is the #2 seed and also carries an undefeated record into the Big Ten Tournament. With no love lost between Stieber and Ramos, expect fireworks when these two put their undefeated records on the line on Sunday afternoon.
Not to be outdone, younger brother Hunter Stieber will also take on all challengers in the Big Ten with an impressive 27-0 ledger. Stieber will be in pursuit of his first Big Ten title after placing 3rd in last year’s competition. Hunter’s road to the finals looks to run through Penn State’s Bryan Pearsall, who did not wrestle when the Nittany Lions came to Columbus in February. Should he advance to the finals, Hunter will likely meet up with Nick Dardanes of Minnesota or Iowa’s Mark Ballweg. Hunter has a win over each this season, but both have been close matches and with a Big Ten title on the line, anything can happen.
The usual line-up for the Buckeyes was shaken up a bit this weekend as usual starter at 149 lbs, Cam Tessari, was not entered into the tournament. Tessari was an All-American last year as a true freshman and placed 5th at the Big Ten tournament a year ago. Replacing Cam will be durable and experienced Ian Paddock, who came off of the bench a number of times for the Buckeyes this season. Fear not, Buckeye faithful! Paddock is not the wrestling version of Rudy; Paddock has skills, experience, and is not going to go on any quests through any shires anytime soon. In his first 2 years in the lineup, Paddock qualified for the NCAA tournament, which will help Coach Tom Ryan sleep at night knowing he has an excellent wrestler in his back pocket in Paddock. Paddock is seeded 8th and will likely get a rematch with #1 seeded Eric Grajales of Michigan. Grajales defeated Paddock by a score of 2-0 the last time they met, and Paddock will be looking to settle the score and earn his way into the semifinals. The top 8 placers are guaranteed a place in the NCAA tournament, but Paddock would like a bit of revenge first before looking down the road. This is one of the most up-in-the-air weight classes at this year’s tournament, so any number of wrestlers could win they get a hot hand and favorable matchups.
While Paddock is wrestling this weekend, I’m unsure if Tessari is able to return for the NCAA tournament if Paddock secures a spot. If I find out, I’ll be sure to update you.
Lightning in a bottle Josh Demas is seeded #6 and is in prime position to earn another crack at #3 Dylan Alton of Penn State. Alton was able to steal a win from Demas in the dual in somewhat controversial fashion (I still say that Demas had the cradle locked up and should have been awarded 2 points and the win. Don’t try to tell me otherwise). Demas’ level changes on his feet make him a formidable foe and he has been in tight matches with St. John, Welch, and Alton, so a few breaks in his favor could have Demas high on the medal stand. Josh will need to place in the top 7 to ensure that his ticket is punched for the NCAA tournament.
St. Edward graduate Mark Martin will look to improve on his 2-5 record against Big Ten competition this season. Martin’s first match is against Nebraska’s 8th seeded Austin Wilson, and the winner is in the unenviable position of wrestling Penn State’s skinny wrecking ball David Taylor in the quarterfinals. Martin will need to muster just one win to earn one of the 8 qualifying spots to the NCAA tournament allotted to the Big Ten.
The 174 lb weight class is another (like 125) that should yield a number of medalists at the NCAA tournament. With just 3 losses on the season, Nick Heflin finds himself seeded 4th, which should be proof enough that the Big Ten is absolutely loaded at this weight class. Heflin will earn a bye to the quarterfinals, where he should face off against Penn State’s ultra-talented Matt Brown. Brown is a bit of an unknown quantity, often wrestling far above or below his last performance. Heflin owns a 3-2 decision over Brown, and will look to repeat that this weekend. Heflin will need to finish in the top 8 to guarantee a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
At 184 lbs, senior CJ Magrum will look to earn his 4th bid to the NCAA tournament and will attempt to make up for lost time, since he was unable to compete at last year’s tournament due to injury. Magrum has been in tight competition with Kenny Courts for this spot throughout the year, and finally was able to secure the position late in the Big Ten season. At 184 lbs, the Big Ten has only earned 6 automatic qualifier positions, so the competition will be intense. Magrum, like Mark Martin, is in the unenviable position of drawing the same quarterfinal as defending NCAA champ and frequent scoreboard lighter Ed Ruth, who pinned Magrum in the 1st period of their dual in February. If Magrum again falls to Ruth, he’ll likely need wins over 4 seeded John Rizqallah of MSU or Ethen Lofthouse of Iowa to keep his NCAA streak alive. Magrum is a gritty redshirt senior and knows how to wrestle in clutch situations, so he is definitely one to keep an eye on this weekend.
At 197 lbs, the Buckeyes welcome back the explosive Andrew Campolattano from a stint as the walking wounded. After losing his first match at last year’s NCAA tournament, Campolattano rattled off 4 straight wins in the wrestlebacks, falling just 1 victory short of the All-American podium. Campolattano has wrestled defending NCAA champ (and Berea, Ohio native) Dustin Kilgore 4 times this season, succumbing to defeats in each, but Camp has been able to keep the matches from being tech falls or pins, which is quite the statement when facing Kilgore. Campolattano will square off against Braden Atwood of Purdue for the chance to take on undefeated Quentin Wright of Penn State in the semifinals. With 8 automatic bids up for grabs, any win for Campolattano would secure an automatic bid, but with NCAA seeding at stake, AC will be looking to stand high on the podium this weekend, as he ought to be able to do.
Finally, Heavyweight Peter Capone was unable to compete due to an injury sustained in the dual against Penn State, so junior Kosta Karageorge is ready to take a crack at the Big Ten tournament. Karageorge has locked horns with Michigan’s Ben Apland in his only Big Ten dual match this season, and dropped that match 6-1. Karageorge will meet up with Jimmy Lawson of Penn State to kick off his tournament in hopes of earning one of the 9 NCAA bids up for grabs.
The 2013 Big Ten Tournament kicks off today at 11 EST (10 AM CST) in Champaign, Illinois, and can be followed on the Big Ten Network or at Illinois’ website. The tournament will conclude on Sunday with what promises to be some of the best wrestling in the country. The finals will be on Sunday at 1:30 Central. You can follow the action via Twitter by following @wrestlingbucks or me @CurtHeinrichs for results, thoughts, and probably some rants mixed in. DISCLAIMER: There will be some rants mixed in. I just said "probably" because I may be pleasantly surprised.
Be sure to check back with Eleven Warriors throughout the weekend as I’ll be posting more results as they happen.