Ohio State's No. 2-ranked wrestling program went to Sin City last weekend looking to test its highly-touted lineup against some of the best wrestlers in America. The team came back home singing Viva Las Vegas, with three champions and seven total finishes in the Top 4 earning the Buckeyes their second-consecutive victory in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational team race.
Come March, Ohio State may will field the best lineup in the country from 125 through 285. Even shorthanded with starters Nathan Tomasello, Joey McKenna and Kyle Snyder out of the lineup for the Cliff Keen, the Buckeyes were far and away the best team on the mats, finishing 15.5 points ahead of second-place Michigan.
Ohio State wrestlers won 78% of their 50 total bouts during the two-day tournament, going 39-11. The team's focus on bonus point victories paid off as well, with 41% of their wins coming by way of bonus: seven pins, three tech falls and six major decisions.
The Buckeyes went seven-for-seven getting its projected post-season starters to the medal round. Luke Pletcher (133 lbs), Myles Martin (184 lbs) and Kollin Moore (197 lbs) each won individual titles, and each remain undefeated on the season.
The Buckeyes are for real. pic.twitter.com/K4BoUrT0Mn
— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) December 4, 2017
Stand-ins Brendon Fitzgerald (filling in for Joey McKenna, who won bronze at the U23 World Championships in Poland over Thanksgiving weekend) and Kevin Snyder (wrestling for his older brother, who was named Male Olympic Athlete of the Year last week by the United States Olympic Committee) both went 0-2 on the weekend. Freshman Brakan Mead (wrestling for the injured Nathan Tomasello), on the other hand, went 2-2 on the weekend, advancing to the round of 16 before dropping two consecutive matches to end his tournament.
The Cliff Keen marked Ohio State's second tournament of the year, but the first in which it was truly working toward a team win, as the Princeton Open didn't award a team championship.
While the Buckeyes fielded seven ranked wrestlers, they were far from the only team with a loaded roster. That Team Up North, for example, has eight ranked wrestlers in its lineup, and Ohio State already hosted a fairly stacked Arizona State team in a dual earlier this season.
The impressive team victory wasn't without disappointment, however. Bo Jordan fell to 0-2 on the season against rival Zahid Valencia; his younger brother Micah dropped a 10-3 decision in the championship round to Alec Pantaleo of Michigan; and Te'Shan Campbell lost two of his last three matches in low-scoring affairs.
125 Pounds - Brakan Mead
Mead has had an up and down season stepping into the starting lineup in place of three-time All-American and former NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello. The true freshman has acquitted himself well, even if he's been on the wrongside of the win/loss column more than he might like.
At the Cliff Keen, he opened with a strong tournament, earning two consecutive decisions before running into a ranked opponent. He wasn't able to rebound in the consolation bracket, and after a second loss his tournament was finished.
On the positive side, though - advancing through two rounds added points to the team score. One of the ways the Buckeyes will mitigate Penn State's penchant for bonus points come tournament time is by getting 10 wrestlers as far into the tournament as possible. Mead showed that he is capable of advancing in a tournament setting.
|Round of 64||Brakan Mead (Ohio State) decision over Sean Williams (Fresno State)||4-3|
|Round of 32||Brakan Mead (Ohio State) decision over Aslan Kilic (Navy)||3-2|
|Round of 16||No. 11 Connor Schram (Stanford) major decision over Brakan Mead (Ohio State)||14-2|
|Quarterfinals||Donald Keeley (Brown) decision over Brakan Mead (Ohio State)||10-4|
133 Pounds - Luke Pletcher
Sophomore Luke Pletcher may be the least-heralded of Ohio State's three Cliff Keen champions, in part because his style of wrestling seems to match his quiet demeanor. Typically wrestling low-scoring, grind-it-out type matches, his 13-0 record on the season reflects his workman-like approach to the business.
Head coach Tom Ryan has said on more than one occasion that he'd like to see Pletcher take more shots, wrestle a bit more aggressively and work toward those bonus point victories the Buckeyes crave as the season wends its way toward an NCAA Tournament showdown with Penn State. That isn't quite what happened in Las Vegas, though Pletcher's highest-scoring matches of the weekend were in the later rounds of the tournament, against stiffer competition.
The young Buck finished his sweep of the field with a 9-2 win over Josh Terao of American. Entering the tournament as the No. 4 seed, he upended top seed Stevan Micic of Michigan 7-5 in a critical semifinal on Saturday morning.
|Round of 64||No. 9 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) decision over Ali Naser (Arizona State)||5-2|
|Round of 32||No. 9 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) decision over Ben Thornton (Purdue), TB1||2-1|
|Round of 16||No. 9 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) decision over Montorie Bridges (Wyoming)||8-6|
|Quarterfinals||No. 9 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) decision over No. 11 Korbin Myers (Edinboro)||5-1|
|SemiFinals||No. 9 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) decision over No. 2 Stevan Micic (Michigan)||7-5|
|Finals||No. 9 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) decision over No. 13 Josh Terao (American)||9-2|
141 Pounds - Brendon Fitzgerald
With Joey McKenna resting up from a bronze-medal finish at the U23 World Championships, sophomore Brendon Fitzgerald got the call for the Cliff Keen. Unfortunately for the Columbus native, he ran into a top-20 wrestler in his first bout of the weekend and was his tournament was over two tech falls later.
|Round of 64||BYE|
|Round of 32||No. 20 Mason Smith (Central Michigan) victory by tech fall over Brendan Fitzgerald (OSU)||15-0|
|Consolation Round of 32||Isaiah Locsin (Stanford) victory by tech fall over Brendan Fitzgerald (OSU)||17-0|
149 Pounds - Ke-Shawn Hayes
Hayes is one of the top wrestlers in the country, but even the best drop a match from time to time. The redshirt sophomore dropped his first match of the season in Sin City, in a narrow decision to a similarly-ranked opponent.
After a solid decision in his opening bound and a shut-out tech fall in his second, Hayes faced Troy Heilmann, the man ranked one peg below him in the current standings. The first period looked to be all Buckeye, as Hayes ran out to an early 8-point lead; Heilmann, however, didn't get the memo that the match was over, and wrestled all the way back to earn the victory.
The loss wasn't a terrible one for Hayes, as Heilmann came up just short in the final match of the tournament, finishing second. Hayes would battle back in the consolation bracket, finishing on the podium in third place.
Hayes wrestled at 141 prior to his injury last season, and would be doing so again this go-round were it not for the offseason addition of Joey McKenna, who is himself ranked among the Top 5 in the country. As he continues to get comfortable at 149, don't be surprised to see Hayes settle in and be a serious contender to wrestle in the final round of the conference and NCAA tournaments.
|Round of 64||BYE|
|Round of 32||No. 8 Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) decision over Jacob Macalolooy (Columbia)||7-1|
|Round of 16||No. 8 Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) victory by tech fall over Kyle Springer (Eastern Michigan)||16-0|
|Quarterfinals||No. 9 Troy Heilmann (NC State) decision over No. 8 Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State)||10-8|
|Consolation Rd of 16||No. 8 Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) major decision over Michael Sprague (American)||13-2|
|Consolation Rd of 32||No. 8 Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) win by medical forfeit over Colton McCrystal (Nebraska)|
|Third-Place Match||No. 8 Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) decision over Max Thomsen (Northern Iowa)||4-3|
157 Pounds - Micah Jordan
Had the infamous #PinChain made the trek to Las Vegas, the younger Jordan brother would have worn it most of the weekend, as he was a bonus point machine, ending half of his matches by fall. In fact, only one of his victories came by decision, so Jordan deserves a good deal of credit for helping propel the Buckeyes to such a decisive team win.
Another piece of good news? Jordan was able to avenge his first loss of the season, a decision to then-No. 5 Josh Shields of Arizona State. The two squared off again in the semifinals, with Jordan coming up on the right side of another narrow decision.
The one blemish on the weekend was Jordan taking his second loss of the season, and to a wrestler for Michigan, no less. Alec Pantaleo, ranked No. 11 in the country heading into the tournament; he'll likely climb the ladder a notch or two with his upset of the No. 6 wrestler in the country.
After a scoreless first period, Jordan drew first blood with a quick escape from bottom. The Wolverine notched a takedown 20 seconds later, but Jordan's escape evened the score to 2 each at the second break.
The third period was all Pantaleo, however. His escape gave him the leda, which he never relinquished. A takedown and four-point nearfall in the waning seconds of the match, along with the riding-time bonus, gave Michigan one of its two individual titles of the weekend.
|Round of 64||No. 6 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) victory by fall over Jett Moy (Cal Poly)||1:19|
|Round of 32||No. 6 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) victory by fall over Casey Sparkman (Kent State)||3:28|
|Round of 16||No. 6 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) major decision over Luke Weiland (Army West Point)||19-6|
|Quarterfinals||No. 6 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) victory by fall over Tristan Rifanburg (Binghamton)||4:05|
|SemiFinals||No. 6 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) decision over No. 5 Josh Shields (Arizona State)||8-6|
|Finals||No. 11 Alec Pantaleo (Michigan) decision over No. 6 Micah Jordan (Ohio State)||10-3|
165 Pounds - Te'Shan Campbell
When Campbell is on top, there are few in the country who can beat him. Beyond that, he's a work in progress.
Coach Ryan noted prior to the tournament that of the three positions - top, bottom or neutral - Campbell's obvious area of strength is probably the least important. The coaching staff are working with the 2016 ACC Champion to improve his game on his feet, as well as his game on bottom, as he's been ridden out once or twice this season.
While Campbell has a slew of bonus point victories to his credit already, his trip to Las Vegas was very much feast or famine, underscoring Ryan's point about the relative importance of a dominant top game: if Campbell gets his opponent on the mat, he's going to get back points and probably a tech fall.
If he can't get the takedown, however, he's vulnerable.
Case in point: one of Campbell's victories in Las Vegas came by way of a first-period pin, and another came by an 11-0 major decision. His quarterfinal victory over No. 11 Isaiah White of Nebraska, on the other hand, came by way of a single takedown in the final 10 seconds of the match, and his two losses of the weekend came via a combined score of 8-1.
Though the two losses were his first two losses of the season, both came against ranked opponents that he'll almost certainly see again in the postseason, with White avenging his quarterfinal loss with the 4-1 decision in the third-place match.
|Round of 64||BYE|
|Round of 32||No. 7 Te'Shan Campbell (Ohio State) win by medical forfeit over Andrew Mendel (Army)|
|Round of 16||No. 7 Te'Shan Campbell (Ohio State) victory by fall over Demetrius Romero (Utah Valley)||2:15|
|Quarterfinals||No. 7 Te'Shan Campbell (Ohio State) decision over No. 11 Isaiah White (Nebraska)||3-1|
|SemiFinals||No. 5 David McFadden (Virginia Tech) decision over No. 7 Te'Shan Campbell (Ohio State)||4-0|
|Consolation Semifinals||No. 7 Te'Shan Campbell (Ohio State) major decision over Andrew Fogarty (NDSU)||11-0|
|Third-Place Match||No. 11 Isaiah White (Nebraska) decision over No. 7 Te'Shan Campbell (Ohio State)||4-1|
174 Pounds - Bo Jordan
The elder Jordan brother is both one of the best wrestlers in the country, and one who has faced arguably the toughest schedule of anyone in his class save No. 1 Zahid Valencia. Jordan has already faced Valencia twice, coming up winless both times, and faced two other ranked wrestlers while in Las Vegas.
Like younger brother Micah, Jordan is a certified member of the #PinChain gang, earning his third fall of the season in the opening round of the Cliff Keen. From there on, it was all victory by decision, as he never managed to score more than 9 points in a match.
Wins over No. 15 Keaton Subjeck of Stanford and No. 6 Myles Amine of Michigan propelled Jordan into the finals, where he would again face his rival Valencia, hoping to avenge his earlier loss at the Buckeyes' home opener in St. John Arena.
Things didn't go according to plan in that regard.
1. Zahid nearly pins Bo.
2. Bo storms back.
3. Zeke throws cube.
4. All momentum destroyed. https://t.co/wfyVt00TQi
— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) December 3, 2017
Valencia is very good at wrestling, and he nearly ended the match early with a first-period takedown and a four-point nearfall that was nearly a pin. Jordan, however, stayed in the match, cutting Valencia's lead to 8-3 at the end of the second frame.
In the third, Jordan appeared to have the upper hand, with a quick escape and subsequent takedown putting Valencia in a vulnerable spot and nursing a 2-point lead with 90 seconds left in the match. Before BoJo's momentum could put the match back clearly in his favor, however, Arizona State coach Zeke Jones threw the cube to challenge the takedown, claiming that the wrestlers were out of bounds.
The sequence that lead to the now famous Zeke Jones challenge. Just INCHES from being out of bounds. pic.twitter.com/cpwSuB86d2
— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) December 3, 2017
It should be noted that Jones has very few fans in Columbus already... at the dual meet in November, fans expressed their dislike for Jones quite vocally when he pulled his wrestler at 197 pounds, denying Kollin Moore the chance for an early-season victory. As if that wasn't frustrating enough, he in turn pulled his ranked heavyweight Tanner Hall, and instead fed an unranked 197-pounder to the pound-for-pound best wrestler on the planet Kyle Snyder.
Throwing the cube when Jordan was on the verge of evening the score against Valencia isn't likely to get Jones back on Buckeye fans' Christmas Card lists any time soon.
"That challenge was definitely a momentum stopper," four-time world champion Jordan Burroughs said via his Twitter feed after the match. "Maybe changed the outcome of the match."
Indeed from the photo, it was fairly clear that the wrestlers were still in bounds, and replay confirmed the call of a takedown, but the damage was already done. Valencia earned the escape when action resumed, extending his lead to three points, and allowing him to work the clock into a second victory over his toughest competition this season.
Ryan was magnanimous when asked about the cube incident after the match.
"Valencia is a tremendous competitor, and he wants success as bad as we do," Ryan told FloWrestling's Christian Pyles.
I think we had momentum there. It was a call by Zeke that is within the rules, and some would consider a very wise call. I don't think he was truly questioning if he was in bounds or not, but we still have to score points. At the end of the day, we don't want to be in a position where we need them to not throw the cube in to win the match.
|Round of 64||No. 3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) victory by fall over Zach Stodden (Nebraska-Kearney)||4:38|
|Round of 32||No. 3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) decision over Hunter Bolen (Virginia Tech)||7-2|
|Round of 16||No. 3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) decision over Ryan Christensen (Wisconsin)||7-2|
|Quarterfinals||No. 3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) decision over No. 15 Keaton Subjeck (Stanford)||9-5|
|SemiFinals||No. 3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) decision over No. 6 Myles Amine (Michigan)||6-4|
|Finals||No. 1 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State) decision over No. 3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State)||9-6|
184 Pounds - Myles Martin
When your coach compares you to Muhammed Ali, you're probably pretty good at your sport. Tom Ryan speaks in just such glowing terms about the quickness and "silky smooth" moves of his former NCAA Champ and returning All-American Myles Martin.
Martin, the top seed at 184, toppled defending Big Ten champion Domenic Abounader of Michigan in a hard-fought final match.
The junior continued to pile up bonus points for his team, picking up bonus-point wins in four of his five matches on the weekend.
|Round of 64||BYE|
|Round of 32||No. 2 Myles Martin (Ohio State) victory by tech fall over Payton Mair (Emory-Riddle)||20-5|
|Round of 16||No. 2 Myles Martin (Ohio State) victory by fall over Isaac Deaton (Nebraska-Kearney)||6:02|
|Quarterfinals||No. 2 Myles Martin (Ohio State) major decision over No. 14 Steven Schneider (Binghamton)||14-4|
|SemiFinals||No. 2 Myles Martin (Ohio State) victory by tech fall over Taylor Venz (Nebraska)||19-4|
|Finals||No. 2 Myles Martin (Ohio State) decision over No. 5 Domenic Abounader (Michigan)||8-5|
197 Pounds - Kollin Moore
With the top two wrestlers in the country in the field, 197 set up to be one of the most exciting brackets in the tournament. No. 1 Kollin Moore didn't disappoint, winning his championship match over No. 2 Jared Haught of Virginia Tech with a first-period pin.
The tournament was an interesting one for Moore, as his first day was less exciting than one might expect from the all-star. After a high-scoring decision in the opening round, he followed two low-scoring decisions with a major in the quarterfinals.
— Mountain Man (@moore_of_kollin) December 2, 2017
He exorcised whatever demons he was fighting in those early matches, however, with an emphatic win in the final round.
The matchup this season was a long time in the making, as the two titans were set to meet at the NWCA All-Star Classic in early November. A minor injury led Moore to withdraw from that exhibition; the battle was worth the wait, however, as Moore clearly came ready to win, Moore stunning the Virginia Tech All-American with a fireman’s carry to a pin less than two minutes into the opening frame.
...and he threw up the famous Bosa Shrug for good measure. Expect Moore and Haught to cross paths again, as the two are the two top returning finishers from last year's NCAA tournament.
|Round of 64||No. 1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) decision over Tanner Orndoff (Utah Valley)||15-11|
|Round of 32||No. 1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) decision over Eric Schultz (Nebraska)||3-2|
|Round of 16||No. 1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) decision over Ben Honis (Cornell)||5-3|
|Quarterfinals||No. 1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) major decision over No. 18 Hunter Ritter (Wisconsin)||20-7|
|SemiFinals||No. 1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) decision over No. 9 Matt Williams (Cal State Bakersfield)||10-4|
|Finals||No. 1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) victory by fall over No. 2 Jared Haught (Virginia Tech)||1:52|
285 Pounds - Kevin Snyder
The Elder Snyder brother wrestles a lighter NCAA schedule than his teammates due in no small part to his international freestyle schedule as the reigning, defending Olympic and World champion. He spent part of last week being honored as the Male Olympic Athlete of the Year, and is off to Iran this week for the World Wrestling Clubs Cup.
In his stead, "Little Orca" Kevin Snyder performed admirably at Princeton and the Thanksgiving Throwdown. In Las Vegas, however, he was 0-2 after facing a top-20 opponent in his first round and coming up just short in the wrestlebacks.
|Round of 64||No. 16 Garrett Ryan (Columbia) def. Kevin Snyder (Ohio State)||10-1|
|Consolation Rd of 64||BYE|
|Consolation Rd of 32||Zach Schrader (Cal Baptist) def. Kevin Snyder (Ohio State)||9-5|
Ohio State sent 10 wrestlers to Las Vegas, put seven into the quarterfinals, six into the semifinals, and three on the top of the medal stand. It was an impressive performance, and a look at what the Buckeyes hope to do when the tournaments really count, come March.
— Willie Saylor (@WillieAtFLO) December 3, 2017
The Buckeyes return to action Sunday, Dec. 10, hosting Indiana at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, the alma mater of former NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello. McKenna is expected to return to the lineup at 141, though Kyle Snyder will be in Iran competing at the World Clubs Cup.
Tomasello told Eleven Warriors last week that there was a "small chance" he would be back in action in his home gym, though he conceded that the doctors and trainers would ultimately make the call if he was ready for live action.