All good things must come to an end, and the end is near for the collegiate careers of three of Ohio State's greatest wrestlers. For Nathan Tomasello, Bo Jordan and Kyle Snyder, Sunday marks the final home dual of their senior season.
Their careers have been incredible, to say the least. A trio of three-time All Americans for Tom Ryan, three individual NCAA titles and a team title, to boot... the three have played a major role in the development of a culture that has the Buckeyes in perennial title-contender status.
9-0, 4-0 Big Ten Conference
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3:30 P.M. – SUNDAY, JAN. 21
JEROME SCHOTTENSTEIN CENTER
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Sunday's meet is far from a swan song, however. After the dual with Iowa, the Buckeyes still have five duals ahead of them - including the season's marquee battle at Penn State - prior to the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, the only meets that truly matter in terms of the team's ultimate goals.
Iowa isn't just window-dressing for Senior Day, however. The No. 4 Hawkeyes come to Columbus with the wind in their sails, having upset No. 3 Oklahoma State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena a week ago.
With wins at 125, 149, 157, 165, 184 and 285, the Hawkeyes held off the Cowboys 20-12. They'll face a much tougher task squaring off against the Buckeyes, of course, a team that may well field the best roster, top to bottom, in NCAA history (a claim Kyle Snyder has made more than once this season).
Like Ohio State, the Hawkeyes come into Columbus undefeated, 9-0 overall and 4-0 in Big Ten action.
Ohio State's last outing was a 31-7 mollywhopping of the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Buckeyes dropped two matches: Joey McKenna dropped his second career loss to Tommy Thorn, and Te'Shan Campbell dropped a second consecutive match to a ranked opponent.
Beyond those stumbles, however, the Buckeyes flexed their muscles and dominated the Gophers from the get-go. They'll look to do the same Sunday versus a string of ranked Hawkeyes.
The story of the weekend will be the final matches in Columbus for Tomasello, Jordan and Snyder, with the program pushing fans to break the NCAA record for indoor wrestling attendance: 15,996, set by Penn State when it hosted Pitt back in 2013.
Urban Meyer will be matside to cheer on the home team, and former Buckeye football star John Simon and NCAA wrestling champion Mark "The Hammer" Coleman, the inaugural UFC Heavyweight Champion, will be on hand as well.
Setting aside the pomp and circumstance - and there will be plenty of that - the action on the mat should be as good as it's been all season. Iowa will field seven ranked wrestlers, including six in the Top 10 of their respective weight class.
Of special interest will be the gauntlet from 149-165. In each of those three matches, Iowa fields the higher-ranked wrestler. If Iowa can win those and steal an upset elsewhere in the lineup, things could be more interesting with regard to the team score than they've been at any point this season.
That said, it would be a shock if this meet was ever truly in question. Quite simply, only one team in the country has the horses to compete with Ohio State this season, as the Buckeyes have a very real shot at ending the year with a perfect 10 All-American finishers. Iowa has five and maybe six, by comparison.
The Iowa Hawkeyes
Head Coach: Tom Brands
|125||No. 1 Nathan Tomasello (2-0)||No. 6 Spencer Lee (8-1)|
|133||No. 2 Luke Pletcher (19-0)||
Paul Glynn (6-5) -OR-
Phillip Laux (9-4)
|141||No. 11 Joey McKenna (6-1)||
Vince Turk (6-5) -OR-
Carter Happel (10-6)
|149||No. 6 Ke-Shawn Hayes (19-2)||No. 2 Brandon Sorenson (14-0)|
|157||No. 6 Micah Jordan (17-2)||No. 2 Michael Kemerer (15-0)|
|165||No. 13 Te'Shan Campbell (14-4)||No. 8 Alex Marinelli (8-0)|
|174||No. 3 Bo Jordan (16-2)||Joey Gunther (11-3)|
|184||No. 2 Myles Martin (19-0)||No. 20 Mitch Bowman (10-3)|
|197||No. 1 Kollin Moore (15-0)||No. 5 Cash Wilcke (13-1)|
|HWT||No. 1 Kyle Snyder (5-0)||No. 3 Sam Stoll (12-0)|
Brands (well, he and twin brother Terry, too) has been the face of Iowa wrestling for 12 seasons, since taking the helm at his alma mater. The three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year was a four-time All-American and three-time national champion (1989-92) for legendary coach Dan Gable.
He has a 192-19-1 (.908) overall and 84-7 (.923) Big Ten coaching record at Iowa, and a 209-39-1 (.841) career mark. His teams have won three NCAA and four Big Ten team titles, including 10 individual NCAA champions, 15 Big Ten champions and 61 All-Americans.
In other words, until Cael Sanderson took the tiller in Happy Valley, Tom Brands pretty well had it made as wrestling's big man on campus. Things have been tougher for the Hawkeyes in recent years. Penn State has won six of the past seven NCAA tournaments - and Ohio State won the other, in 2015.
This season looks like more of the same: Penn State and Ohio State, grappling for postseason supremacy.
"It's been eight years since Iowa last won a national title and the only Big Ten title they've won in that span was a slightly bizarre joint championship with Ohio State in 2015," said Go Iowa Awesome writer RossWB in previewing Sunday's dual. "Worse, they've had some pretty distant finishes in the years since Iowa's last title."
Even so, the Hawkeyes have pulled in some incredible talent, including freshman phenom Spencer Lee at 125 pounds, and Ohio native and four-time state champ Alex Marinelli at 165. Those two, along with senior Brandon Sorenson and sophomore Michael Kemerer, hope to prove that Iowa still has what it takes to be the class of the conference.
Iowa certainly has a bit of DNA in the Buckeye wrestling program, too. Head Coach Tom Ryan finished his NCAA wrestling career as an All American under Gable, and was a roommate of current Hawkeye assistant coach Terry Brands.
"They were — and they still are, in some ways — but they were critically important to my development as a competitor,” Ryan said of the Brands Brothers in an interview with HawkCentral.com. “They were great examples. They were guys that really made a difference in my success and growth.”
Notable Iowa Wrestlers
No. 2 Brandon Sorenson - 149 pounds
Sorenson is - if it's possible to say so of someone ranked No. 2 in the country - one of the more underrated wrestlers in the conference. He is as steady as the tides, consistently finishing near the top of the heap and piling on bonus points.
"The reality is that he's earned bonus points in over 60% of his wins the last two seasons (over 70% this season), which isn't too bad," RossWB told Eleven Warriors earlier in the week. "I think part of the issue is that as the longtime #2 guy at 149, he gets compared to the #1 guy in [Penn State's Zain] Retherford, but that's probably not entirely fair, given how freakishly good Zain is."
So while Sorenson is a three-time All-American - he's never finished outside the Top 4, in fact - he's also never won a Big Ten or NCAA title.
Hayes' best shot at an upset, according to RossWB, is to come out on fire and take it to Sorensen early: "He sometimes starts matches a little slowly and can be a little flat-footed, so if Hayes can get to his legs and get some early takedowns, he could put Sorensen in a hole and force him to be more aggressive, which may leave him open to other mistakes."
No. 8 Alex Marinelli - 165 pounds
It might seem hard to believe, but not every four-time Ohio high school champion comes to wrestle at Ohio State. Marinelli, a product of Jeff Jordan's NCAA wrestling factory at St. Paris Graham High School in Champaign County, is one of those Ohioans who opted to search for greener pastures elsewhere.
“They [the Buckeyes] were on my radar early because they were recruiting me early and so was Iowa,” Marinelli told Landof10.com this week. “I felt that Iowa fit me a lot, lot better, and I had some people in my life that thought different. I had some pressure there. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re a people pleaser like me. I’m the type of person that needs to do what he needs to do."
Marinelli comes back home to The Schottenstein record with three wins over ranked opponents, and faces Te'Shan Campbell, a former ACC champion and Pennsylvania native wrestling in the Schott for only the second time in his career.
Campbell, to put it mildly, needs the win. While the postseason is what truly matters in the current iteration of NCAA wrestling, Campbell is dropped a pair of consecutive matches against ranked conference foes, and he needs to demonstrate that he's learned from those missteps, and has rebounded and grown as a competitor.
No. 6 Spencer Lee - 125 pounds
"Lee is Free" was the most popular headline in wrestling media the first week of the New Year. For the first time in his career, Brands opted to start a true freshman, though Lee is anything but your run-of-the-mill first year.
With three Pennsylvania state prep titles and three world freestyle titles to his credit, Lee was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2017, and one of the most heralded recruits in recent memory. He added additional intrigue into an already exciting lightweight class, and other big-time opponent for former NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello.
Only two teams have made it to double-digits on Ohio State this season, and Arizona State topped out at 12. Only “fully weaponized” in one meet so far this season, either due to Tomasello’s injury or Snyder and McKenna’s international obligations, most teams simply don’t have the horsepower to win more than a match or two in a dual with the Buckeyes.
Iowa is one of those teams that will actually give the home crowd reason to sweat, particularly in the middle of the lineup, with Lee making things more interesting at 125.
Final score? Something like 31-12 or 29-11 feels reasonable.