After a season on the shelf as a planned redshirt, Hunter Stieber is back in the lineup and has big plans to improve upon his previous two seasons. While most wrestlers would be elated to earn a pair of All-American finishes, a Big Ten championship a Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational title and other accolades, Stieber has his sights set on the top of the podium.
In those two seasons, Stieber was nothing short of brilliant, racking up a 64–8 record with just a single loss in Big Ten dual meets. While redshirting, he added another 18 wins without suffering a defeat wrestling in open competition.
With Nick Heflin graduating, the younger Stieber brother will be asked to lead the way as one of the few upperclassmen in a lineup heavy on potential, but light on experience.
We spoke to Hunter about his redshirt season as well as his outlook on returning to the mat.
Was it your idea to redshirt or did the coaching staff approach you with the idea?
It was the coaching staff. They approached me and asked how I felt about redshirting. I didn’t really care one way or the other, but it ended up being the best thing for the team. I was cool with it either way, but it was definitely the coaches’ idea for me to take the redshirt.
You’re used to competing at a high level in the winter. What was it like sitting out and watching this past season?
It was different because I felt more relaxed. Once the season really got underway and it was time for Big Tens and Nationals, I got kind of bored and restless just watching. I was missing it for sure. I went to Big Tens and Nationals to watch my brother (Logan, who won his 3rd Big Ten and National titles) and the rest of the team compete and I just wanted to be there wrestling with them.
I went to a few open tournaments and I tried to get some quality matches, but there’s no substitute for the Big Ten competition. I missed it a lot for sure, but it was definitely good to take a season to get better.
What did you focus on during the redshirt season?
I mostly just focused on getting better overall. I’m bumping up to 149 pounds next year, which is what I wrestled at in the open tournaments. I worked on getting my weight right and improving my strength for the higher weight class. I basically just lifted and tried to get bigger throughout the season.
Ohio State had a couple of other big-name redshirts with Bo Jordan and Nathan Tomasello, so you probably spent a lot of time with those guys at open tournaments. How do you think they’ll fit in to the lineup next season?
Both guys will definitely make a huge impact in the Big Ten. They will really help to pick the team up. They’re awesome kids and are both really sociable. They’re going to make a big difference to the team, which is good because we’re going to be shooting for titles. We’re going to need every point possible at every weight class and they’re going to be able to score points for sure.
A lot of outlets are mentioning the Buckeyes as a potential contender for the NCAA title. Is that something that the coaching staff has brought up? I know you guys are aware of the chances, but has a run for the title been brought up?
“Every year, the hype has gone up, but this year we’re really going to have a good team.”
The coaches have definitely brought it up. Every year, the hype has gone up, but this year we’re really going to have a good team. We know that with our lineup, if everyone does their part, we’ll have a good shot to win it.
Your brother is on track to become just the 4th wrestler in NCAA history to win four NCAA titles. As his little brother—who happens to be bigger—how do things pan out when you and Logan wrestle one another? Is there anywhere that you can really take it to him?
Sometimes when I get really mad or if I’m in a zone, I can take him, but I tend to lay back. I get in trouble once in a while because I don’t always wrestle my hardest against him. I have a little bit of big brother syndrome, so I don’t want him to lose. He’s really good in all areas, so he normally can take me.
You’ve been doing more freestyle wrestling this off-season. Is that something that you think you’ll continue as your career progresses?
I normally always do a little bit of freestyle in the summer, but this is my first year of doing any of the senior-level stuff. It was a lot of fun going out there and getting that experience. I wish I would have done better, but it was a good experience either way. I’m always wrestling one way or the other, and it’s good to go out there and compete against other guys.
After having a year off and bumping up in weight, is there anyone that you saw that you’ve got your eye on as far as competition goes this season?
Not really. I know there are a lot of good guys in every weight class and there are a lot of good guys returning. The national champion in that weight class (Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern) is only a freshman, so he’s going to be around for a while. There are always a lot of good guys in every weight class, so I can’t just have my sights set on one guy in particular.
My game plan is to try my best to beat everyone that I face. I like to keep an eye on all of the weight classes, just because I’m a big fan of wrestling, but there isn’t anyone that I’m looking at in particular in my weight class. I know that every match in the Big Ten is tough, so I always have to be ready.
Stieber and the Buckeyes kick off the season in October with wrestle-offs to set the starting lineup. Stay tuned to Eleven Warriors for more coverage of the wrestling team as they get set for what could be a memorable season.