Preview by Curt Heinrichs
Impending fatherhood has kept me from doing a more complete (and prompt) recap of the Big Ten Championships, and here’s hoping I’ll get to recap this weekend’s NCAA tournament for those that are unable to watch it, but if my wife goes into labor anytime soon, you'll just have to deal without me.
The Wrestling Buckeyes finished in 4th place at the 2013 Big Ten Championships and finished with a pair of champions, the Brothers Stieber at 133 lbs and 141 lbs.
The NCAA is throwing a wrench in the works by having this year’s NCAA tournament start at 174 lbs, probably with the idea that the final match on Saturday night will be the legendary rematch (if they’ve met 2 times already this season, would it be a threematch?) between Cornell’s 3 time champion Kyle “Kid Dynamite” Dake and Penn State’s wunderkind David Taylor. Taylor has steamrolled nearly everyone he’s faced this season with the exception of Dake. Of Taylor’s 26 wins this season, 25 have been by bonus points, but he’s 0-2 against Dake, who is seeking to become just the 3rd wrestler in NCAA Division history with 4 individual NCAA titles. By comparison, Dake has not always been a points machine in his career, but he is known for his stifling style, completely shutting down his opponents. This season, Dake has gotten hot and rattled off 18 pins. Though it may be viewed by some as unfair to the rest of the competitors in the field, it is almost an inevitability that Taylor and Dake will cruise through the bracket en route to the championship on Saturday night. Although I tend to be a bit of a purist when it comes to wrestling, this shake up in format has me excited and I’m hoping that Taylor and Dake put on an incredible match.
Starting the tournament for the Buckeyes will be redshirt junior and returning All-American Nick Heflin. Heflin earned 5th place in the stacked 174 lb weight class at the Big Ten Tournament, which is probably one of the most stacked divisions in the country this year, especially coming out of the Big Ten. Heflin is peaking at the right time, knocking off then-#1Logan Storley in the consolation quarterfinals on his way to 5th place. Heflin drew the 8th seed at the NCAA tournament and will match up with Rutgers’ Greg Zanetti in the first round. If Heflin wrestles to his ability, he should meet Lehigh’s Nathaniel Brown (9 seed) and eventually #1 seeded Chris Perry of Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals on Friday morning barring any upsets.
A feel-good story up to this point, redshirt senior CJ Magrum is once again back at the NCAA tournament despite some early season stumbles. Magrum was unable to crack the Buckeyes lineup for much of the season, unable to beat upstart Kenny Courts for the starting spot. Magrum has qualified for the NCAA tournament each of his previous 3 seasons, but was unable to compete in last year’s tournament due to injury. Magrum will start his tournament against Rutgers’ Daniel Rinaldi on Thursday. A win over Rinaldi would likely pit Magrum against #3 seeded Robert Hamlin of Lehigh, a 2 time NCAA All-American in his own right.
At 197 lbs, the Buckeyes will trot out sophomore Andrew Campolattano, who won 3 matches at last year’s NCAA tournament. Campolattano is returning from a minor injury, but was able to reach the Big Ten semifinals before eventually placing 5th. Campolattano is an opportunist, able to capitalize on an opponent’s mistake in a big way with a pin if possible. Camp will face off against the #8 seeded Micah Burak of Penn. With a minor upset over Burak, Camp would find himself within a win of meeting NCAA champ (and Berea, Ohio native) Dustin Kilgore for the 4th time this season. Kilgore has bowled over everyone he’s faced this season, but Campolattano has been able to keep close to Kilgore for much of his matches this season.
An injury sustained in the Penn State dual in February cost Peter Capone the chance to compete at the Big Ten tournament, so Kosta Karageorge filled in. Karageorge was unable to place at the Big Ten tournament, thereby ending his season.
At 125 lbs, Nikko Triggas will step onto the mat for the final time in a Buckeye singlet. Triggas has been able to make great use of his time at Ohio State, spending more time in college than Tommy Calahan or Van Wilder (Triggas’ first season for the Buckeyes was my last year at Ohio State back in the 2007-2008 season). This will be Nikko’s 4th trip to the NCAA tournament, and he’ll look to improve on his 8th place performance in the 2010 championships. Triggas finished 5th at the Big Ten tournament and earned the 11 seed in the NCAA tournament. Triggas will start his tournament run against Stanford’s Evan Silver and should find himself against Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett in the 2nd round if he defeats Silver. Fans of the Big Ten should closely watch this weight class as McDonough (Iowa’s former NCAA champion), Delgado (Illinois’ surprising Big Ten Champion from this season), and Megaludus (Penn State’s NCAA runner up from last year) are all serious contenders for the NCAA title. Triggas is capable of ending any match by pin as he entered the season 5th on the all-time Ohio State pins list with 37. If Triggas is able to slip in a double armbar, the referee should be ready to slap the mat in quick fashion.
At 133 lbs, the Buckeyes will look to defending NCAA champion Logan Stieber to score big points in the team race while defending his crown. Stieber once again won the Big Ten tournament with an overtime takedown against nemesis Tony Ramos of Iowa. Stieber’s body lock takedown over Ramos earned him a 3-1 victory in what very well could be a preview of the NCAA finals as Stieber has the #1 seed and Ramos has the #2 seed. Ramos and Stieber entered the Big Ten championship with undefeated records and Ramos’ only real challenge in his half of the bracket looks to be Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff, who could play spoiler to the Ramos-Stieber rematch. Stieber ought to cruise to the semifinals, where he’ll likely meet Edinboro’s AJ Schopp. Stieber’s road to the finals runs through Duke’s Brandon Gambucci, who is a graduate of Lexington (Ohio) High School, located near Monroeville. Stieber should be able to rack up some bonus points in his quest for a repeat National Title, which should factor in the Buckeyes making a strong push for the podium as a team as they look to improve on last year’s 5th place performance.
At 141 lbs, younger brother Hunter Stieber turned some heads as he snagged the #1 seed away from Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple following Stieber’s Big Ten title. Stieber kept his perfect record intact with a win over Mark Ballweg of Iowa. Maple also stayed undefeated, defeating Luke Goetl of Iowa State, but the strength of the Big Twelve conference pales in comparison to the Big Ten and one can view Stieber’s #1 seed as advantage in strength of schedule. The younger Stieber was an NCAA semifinalist last year, falling in the semifinals to eventual champion Kellen Russell of U of M before finishing 6th. Hunter’s quarter of the bracket features Minnesota’s Nick Dardanes, whom Stieber beat 5-3 earlier in the season. Like his older brother, Hunter will be relied upon heavily to score points to keep the Buckeyes in the team race.
At 149 lbs, Ian Paddock is back in the Buckeye lineup and brings a great deal of experience to the team despite not competing for most of the season in the #1 role. That spot was primarily held by Cam Tessari, who was held out of the Big Tens as coach’s decision. Paddock has previously earned 2 trips to the NCAA tournament, and is making his 3rd trip in his redshirt junior year. Paddock is a valuable part of the team and has 3 previous wins at the NCAA tournament, so he is not exactly a novice when it comes to post-season wrestling. Paddock provided a big lift to the Buckeyes at the Big Ten tournament with a win over #1 seeded Eric Grajales of Michigan (What’s the opposite of a fan-favorite? That’s what Grajales is for me) 7-4. Paddock earned 6th place and a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Ian will face Donnie Vinson of Binghamton (the #3 seed) in a pigtail match, being the only Buckeye this season to earn the distinction of having to wrestle in the wrestle-in match. Paddock is capable of pulling off an upset with his experience and lack of exposure this season.
At 157 lbs, Westerville product Josh Demas will make his second appearance at the NCAA tournament after a 4th place finish at the Big Ten tournament. Demas earned his way to the Big Ten semis before falling to Jason Welch. Demas won 2 matches last year and will look to improve on that this year, beginning with a bout against last year’s opponent Roger Pena of Oregon State. If Demas wins his first match, he stands to wrestle his high school teammate, Jesse Dong of Virginia Tech in the 2nd round.
At 165 lbs, Mark Martin has the unfavorable draw of wrestling Kyle Dake of Cornell in the first round. Dake is, as previously mentioned, pursuing his 4th NCAA title in 4 different weight classes and Martin will likely be the 1st casualty en route to that. Martin earned a trip to the NCAA tournament after an 8th place finish at the Big Ten tournament. With exception to the highly-anticipated Dake-Taylor rematch, the field at 165 is an excellent one at that. The field features 5 wrestlers who prepped in Ohio prior to college, including Northwestern’s Pierce Harger (Cincinnati Moeller), Missouri’s Zach Toal (Troy Christian), Penn State’s David Taylor (St. Paris Graham), Virginia’s Nick Sulzer and Mark Martin (both of Lakewood St. Edward). While Martin doesn’t have the most favorable draw wrestling one of the most accomplished wrestlers in NCAA history right off the bat, any points Martin is able to accumulate will greatly help the Buckeyes’ efforts as a team, though it appears to be tough sledding from the get-go.
The tournament begins (at 174 lbs of course) this Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa. You can watch the action on Thursday on ESPN 3 beginning at noon EDT for Session 1 action and Session 2 begins at 7:30 PM on Thursday. For you non-ESPN3 users, you can watch the action starting on Friday at 11 EDT on ESPN U. The finals will be held on ESPN at 8 PM on Saturday. Don’t miss it as you won’t see wrestling on ESPN for a calendar year (though you’ll get all of the bowling, bass fishing, and intense poker action you can handle).
For updates, rants, and updates on my wife’s pregnancy, follow me on Twitter @CurtHeinrichs . For updates specific to the wrestling tournament and very few on my wife's pregnancy, follow @WrestlingBucks