Preview by Curt Heinrichs
Buckeye Mark Martin will look for an upset as the Buckeyes take on Penn State
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles.” – The Art of War- Sun Tzu
Rage Against The Machine had a similar sentiment (not exactly, but I grew up in the 90’s and remain a strong supporter of RATM) on their song “Know Your Enemy.”
While the SEC may lay claim to the powerhouse conference of the college football world, the Big Ten has a stronghold on the NCAA Wrestling Championship with a Big Ten team winning 15 of the last 20 titles. Even more impressive is that a Big Ten school has earned the runner-up spot 11 of those 20 years and Big Ten schools have earned both of the top spots in 6 of the last 20 years. In the toughest conference in collegiate wrestling, it’s important to follow the advice of Sun Tzu (and Zach De La Rocha), and “know your enemy.”
Cael Sanderson is quite possibly the greatest American wrestler in the history of the sport. An undefeated* 4 time NCAA champion, Sanderson then went on to win an Olympic gold medal in Athens. He has competed sporadically since, but has focused primarily on coaching the 3-time defending NCAA champion Penn State Nittany Lions. (* Sanderson was defeated during his redshirt season, but that doesn’t count toward his official record.)
A team doesn’t win 3 NCAA team titles without a full lineup of notable wrestlers. Leading the pack are multiple time NCAA champs David Taylor (more on him later) and Ed Ruth. Also on the roster are 2 time NCAA runner up Nico Megaludis, the highly-sought-after Alton twins, NCAA runner up Matt Brown, and wunderkind Jimmy Gulibon. With one of the top recruiting classes in the country this season, Penn State should be relevant for years to come.
Ohioans on the Penn State roster:
David Taylor lost all of 1 match as a high schooler at Graham High School on his way to winning 4 state titles. For the most part, the Nittany Lions are made up of wrestlers from the Keystone State with only a few notable exceptions. Guys like Taylor, Brown, Morgan McIntosh, and heavyweight Jimmy Lawson are from other states, but since Pennsylvania is one of the elite states for high school wrestling, Sanderson is smart in putting a stranglehold on the best recruits in that area.
Thoughts about the match:
My mother-in-law has what I think to be a pretty cool pastime; she likes to have a vested interest in the Academy Awards ceremony, so she goes starting in December to see as many of the movies nominated for the major awards. When the award ceremony is on TV, she has a favorite that she roots for and can often understand why other movies won over her favorites because she’s seen most of them.
With that said, if any non-hardcore fans are reading this and would like to know some familiar faces at the NCAA championships in March, there’s no better way to familiarize yourself with 3 likely champions than by watching the Ohio State vs Penn State dual. Logan Stieber, David Taylor, and Ed Ruth are far and away the favorites in their respective weight classes (141, 165, and 184). In addition to those 3, Penn State has guys like Megaludis and Matt Brown who have each been finalists at the NCAA tournament but fell just short of a title. While Penn State has a few down spots in the lineup like 133 lbs, the guys at the top are dominant and can make up for any point deficit in a matter of seconds. I’d liken this match to a baseball game where casual fans may not appreciate the intricacies of a pitcher’s duel and are instead looking for homeruns. Guys like Stieber, Taylor, and Ruth all can put points on the board in a hurry and can rack up pins almost at will. Penn State vs Ohio State could come down to an upset turning the tide for the Buckeyes. On paper, I’m looking at the Buckeyes being the underdog in 6 of the 10 matches, but if one of the underdogs can pull off an upset, the entire match could go to the Bucks.
Matches to watch:
All of the matches in this dual are likely to be worth the price of admission (or in my case, the price of my cable bill that brings me the Big Ten Network). I could choose a few key matches, but since the dual could be close right down to the wire, I’ll take a look at all of the bouts and break them down the best that I can.
#18 Nick Roberts vs #3 Nico Megaludis
Roberts has found himself ranked in the top 20 for the first time in his career, but this run may be short lived with Megaludis on the horizon. Roberts will need to stay on the offensive and will need to stay low to counter Megaludis’ 3 point stance offensive attack. Nico will be thinking bonus points, so Roberts will need to keep the scoring to a minimum if he wants to give his team a fighting chance. Megaludis is twice an NCAA runner up, proving he can wrestle well on the biggest stages. He has only fallen once to this point in the season, to the #2 ranked Garrett of Cornell.
#6 Johnni DiJulius vs #15 Jimmy Gulibon/Jordan Conaway
DiJulius is wrestling the best that he has throughout his collegiate career and is the incumbent Big Ten Wrestler of the Week. The Ohio native took the top spot at last weekend’s Las Vegas Invitational and has only been defeated once in his first 15 matches this season. He’s likely going to lock horns with super-recruit Jimmy Gulibon of Penn State. Gulibon has yet to perform up to his potential this season and is likely ranked so high due to his previous accomplishments. Conaway has a win over Gulibon in tournament action this season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take the mat against JDJ. In either event, DiJulius should have the edge and can likely earn the victory for the Buckeyes.
#1 Logan Stieber vs #8 Zain Retherford
In a match between undefeated wrestlers, 2 time defending NCAA champ Logan Stieber is going to have a distinct edge over the freshman. If the Buckeyes are going to have much of a shot at edging the Nittany Lions, Stieber is going to need to put 6 on the board (a team earns 6 team points if a wrestler earns a pin).
#19 Ian Paddock vs James English/Zach Beitz/#7 Andrew Alton
Paddock has been solid throughout his career as a Buckeye and has filled in wherever Coach Ryan has needed him in the lineup. With the ability to knock off top wrestlers, Paddock will need to pick up a big win against whomever the Lions trot out. Alton has been out due to a shoulder injury and has never quite reached the great heights that were predicted for him coming into his collegiate career.
Randy Languis vs James Vollrath/#5 Dylan Alton
Languis is going to have to wrestle his tail off to help the team. He’s a tough wrestler and is one of the Buckeyes that could help steal a victory with a win. If Alton is back from his shoulder injury (both Altons are rehabbing shoulder injuries and neither has seen action this season), he would be the significant favorite but would not be in midseason form.
Joe Grandominico vs #1 David Taylor
While I enjoy watching Joe wrestle and think he’s capable of putting together some wins in the Big Ten, I don’t think this is one of them. Taylor is a point-scoring machine and will put Joe on the defensive early and often. Grandominico will need to stay off of his back and try to neutralize Taylor’s offense. Keeping Taylor from scoring a pin or tech fall (a win for a wrestler when the wrestler amasses a 15+ point lead, which can earn a team 5 or 4 team points depending on whether or not backpoints are scored) would be a moral victory for Grandominico.
Mark Martin vs #3 Matt Brown
Brown is a brute wrestler and has freakish strength. Most of his matches are decided by a small number of points. Martin was in the match late against Kyle Dake (4x NCAA champ from Cornell) at last year’s NCAA tournament, so he knows how to keep the score tight. A win for Martin would be monumental for the Buckeyes, but Mark will have his work cut out for him against Brown.
#12 Kenny Courts vs #1 Ed Ruth
Courts is a wrestler that can score lots of points in a hurry, but is known to falter as the match drags on. Ruth only has a handful of losses in his NCAA career, but is going to be in his first match since being suspended for a DUI. I’m not convinced that Ruth will be out of shape because I have a feeling Sanderson is leaning hard upon Ruth since his arrest. This could either be a barn-burner or a chess match between two very competent wrestlers. While it’s hard to count Courts out of any match, he is going to have his hands full with the #1 wrestler in the country.
#5 Nick Heflin vs #3 Morgan McIntosh
Both wrestlers are undefeated, but both are each a little banged up heading into this match. Heflin defaulted out of the CKLV tournament last weekend with what is rumored to be a foot injury. McIntosh has an injured elbow, but is still able to score a great deal of points. Heflin’s game is more tailored to playing defense and exploiting an mistake by his opponent. McIntosh is a long, lanky wrestler that had the opportunity to learn from Sanderson and Quinton Wright (2 time NCAA champ and 4x All-American) during his redshirt year last year. This could very well be the match of the evening, although not the most exciting throughout.
Nick Tavanello vs #12 Jimmy Lawson
The heavyweight bout will match a pair of very athletic heavyweights with both men being standouts on the football field as well as the wrestling mat. Lawson will have a marked size advantage and has deceptive quickness for a man of his size. Tavanello will need to make the best of any opportunity presented to him if he is going to pull out the upset over Lawson, who is undefeated thus far in the season.
The action takes place on Sunday on the campus of Penn State. The Big Ten Network will air the action live. I’ll be relying on the miracle of the DVR to catch the action later as I’ll be at the Browns game, possibly being plucked from the stands to play running back. Feel free to tweet me updates @CurtHeinrichs but I’ll be in the friendly confines of the Factory of Sadness, where cell phones go to die.
Thanks for reading and be sure to keep reading for more on the Buckeye wrestling team throughout the season.