Here at Eleven Warriors, we operate under a simple maxim: You can cover all of the sports some of the time, and you can cover some of the sports all of the time, but you can't cover all of the sports all of the time.
Even with the Around the Oval column, not all of OSU's varsity athletes get their proper due. This is an attempt to rectify that, with a multi-part series on Ohio State's 36 varsity sports across the year.
Last time, we covered OSU's fall sports, and now Winter Is Coming.
How do you explain the men's basketball team? They had such exhilarating highs – coming back against Notre Dame, making Marquette look silly, pulling out two tight wins in the Big Ten tournament – to go with agonizing losses to Michigan and Michigan State and getting swept (!) by Penn State (!!). The Buckeyes started the season hot, struggled mightily through the first two-thirds of Big Ten play, and finally looked like they were becoming a cohesive unit. Then they ran into a Dayton team playing way above its head, and OSU ended the season as a 6 seed that lost in the round of 64. Disappointment aside, 25-10 is a pretty darn good record.
Alas, 2013-14 marked the last time we'll ever see our rosy-cheeked cherub Aaron Craft stealing passes, winning National Defensive Player of the Year awards and out-whiting opponents. With Craft, Lenzelle Smith, Amedeo Della Valle and LaQuinton Ross gone, it's up to the veteran leadership of Shannon Scott, Amir Williams, and Sam Thompson to make next year's team better.
Kevin McGuff's first season as the head coach of the women's basketball team brought high expectations, and maybe those expectations were too much too soon. The Lady Buckeyes defeated eventual Big 12 champion West Virginia on the road in the season opener and they finished well by making a run to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. In between, however, they struggled to a 17-18 (5-11) record. After a rough season, it'll be important for McGuff's highly touted 2013 recruiting class to pay dividends in 2014. Guards Cait Craft and Ameryst Alston are the returning players who played the most last year; they will have to take the lead.
Fencing is another one of the rare co-ed sports, and something at which OSU excels. The Buckeyes had another solid season, ranking in the top 10 all year and finishing fourth at the 2014 NCAA Fencing Championship. Eight fencers were projected as All-Americans: Alanna Goldie (women's foil), Mona Shaito (women's foil), Alex Antipas (women's sabre), Zain Shaito (men's foil), Kristian Boyadzhiev (men's epee), Fares Arfa (men's sabre), Celina Merza (women's sabre), and Caroline Piasecka (women's epee).
OSU fencing is one of OSU's most eerily consistent teams. For 13 years consecutive years now, they've finished in the top 5 at the NCAA Championships. Leading the way for them next year are Goldie, Antipas and Arfa, all freshmen.
Men's gymnastics was very strong. A top five team from wire to wire, OSU depended on star freshman Sean Melton and sophomore Jake Martin as their team anchors. Going into the NCAA Team Finals, they had not finished below 3rd in a team event. After the finals, the Buckeyes collected eight All-America awards from Melton (in four events), Martin (in two), Jeff Treleaven and Alex Johnson. Though none of the gymnasts won a national championship, Martin did finish second in the high bar. Quite a successful season.
The women's gymnastics team also had their interesting matches. Ranking on the periphery of the top 25 throughout the season, the women's team improved against stiff Big Ten competition, ultimately finishing fourth at the NCAA Team Regionals. Most eye-catching were Melanie Shaffer and Sarah Miller, who were named first-team All-Big Ten in March. For Shaffer, it was her first time being named All-Big Ten; for Miller, it was her fourth. The gymnastics program will miss Miller next year.
The men's hockey team fought and scrapped for everything. Staring down a Big Ten schedule for the first time, the Buckeyes started with damaging losses to Miami (Ohio) and Bowling Green. A rugged Big Ten season (6-10-5) led to a four seed in the Big Ten tournament and the need to win three games to make the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes started with a dramatic overtime victory against Michigan State, and one night later they shocked national No. 1 Minnesota on their home turf to keep their season alive.
It came down to OSU and No. 6 Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, and the Buckeyes could not protect a 4-2 lead in the third period. In overtime, the Badgers slotted a shot past OSU goalie Christian Frey to deny the Buckeyes an NCAA tournament berth.
The year's 18-14-5 mark was considerably helped by the finish. Also helpful: Ryan Dzingel, a First Team All-America forward, and the trio of Frey, Drew Brevig and Nick Schilkey, OSU's Big Ten All-Freshman Team selections.
Women's hockey had a rougher time, going 15-17-5 on the year. Though they rallied at the end of the year, winning seven of their last ten regular season games, Minnesota Duluth had their number in the WCHA Tournament. Sara Schmitt, a junior defenseman, was named All-USCHO Third Team.
The swimming teams had up-and-down seasons, with the men being up more often than not. The men's team blazed through the schedule, winning its first 11 meets to set up a showdown with No. 1 Michigan, in which the Wolverines squeaked by. A third place finish at the Big Ten Championships sent 12 swimmers to the NCAA championships, where All-American Tim Phillips set a Big Ten record in the 100 butterfly. An 18th place finish was a disappointing, but still marked a solid season.
After starting the season unranked, the women built some momentum with wins against Ohio schools and Virginia Tech. That momentum continued with a Senior Day win over Michigan and a fourth place finish at the Big Ten Championships. They sent nine swimmers to the NCAA championships at which they finished 41st; also, Alex Norris was once named Division I National Swimmer of the Week.
Remember last time when I talked about the incredible depth of Big Ten women's volleyball? Big Ten wrestling is at least as strong.
Before the season, the Big Ten had the top three teams in the country: No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Iowa, and No. 3 Minnesota. With Nebraska and Wisconsin also in the top 10, the Buckeyes found it difficult to even finish in the top half of the conference. Fortunately, they had Logan Stieber at 141 pounds and Nick Heflin at 197 pounds to propel the team to greatness; against a brutal regular season schedule, the Buckeyes managed to go 13-5 (4-4 in conference play) in team competition and finish fourth in the Big Ten.
At the NCAA Tournament, the Buckeyes had eight representatives: Heflin, Stieber, Nick Roberts (125 pounds), Johnni DiJulius (133), Ian Paddock (149), Mark Martin (174), Kenny Courts (184), and Nick Tavanello (heavyweight). Stieber won his third national championship, Heflin was his weight class's runner-up, and the OSU team scored well enough to earn sixth place. In a sport as top-heavy as wrestling, that's quite the accomplishment.
That's a wrap on the winter sports; tune in next week for the 2013-14 Year in Review take on the spring sports and the year as a whole.