Penn State may be the ghost everyone in Division I wrestling chases year after year, but when it comes to the Buckeyes, there is only one true rival. Sunday evening, Ohio State faces its rival in another Top 4 match-up that promises plenty of fireworks.
Ohio State (12-1, 7-2 Big Ten) had a tough week, regrouping from a 1-point loss to the defending National Champion Nittany Lions in a meet that came down to the last match of the night. Michigan (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) dispatched Michigan State Friday night in a 39-3 drubbing.
"They've done a good job with this team," Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan said, previewing the meet in Ann Arbor. "Ranked match-ups in nine matches, so this is a dual you circle on your schedule. We're wrestling for gold singlets, so we're looking forward to the dual."
10-2, 7-1 Big Ten Conference
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
6 P.M. – SUNDAY, FEB. 11
ANN ARBOR, MICH.
Ohio State has one of the more back-loaded schedules in the country, with Top 10 opponents in five of the team's final seven duals of the season, and ending the season at Penn State, at Michigan and at North Carolina State ahead of the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
"I like the way this schedule played out," Ryan said. "I like the fact that we're getting into some tougher competition, so it's more like a Big Ten or national tournament."
And with that tougher competition, comes opportunities to improve as a team in the most important months of the season. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, one such opportunity came in the team's first loss of the season.
"We learned a lot about ourselves at Penn State," Ryan explained, his voice still hoarse from the week's exertions. "Last week there was a lot of pain in this facility. Every single person on the team and every single coach on the staff felt responsible. It was a complete sense of 'what could I have done to change the outcome.'"
Looking at each match, there were things that each wrestler could have done to improve their own, and the team's, final result. Ryan said that only Micah Jordan - who scored Ohio State's only tech fall of the night - truly got the job done versus Penn State.
"The amazing thing about that dual meet was that the number of little things that went wrong, caused a big thing," he said. "There were so many little things not only from a scoring standpoint, but from a positioning standpoint, that the littlest things ended up being something big and you can point to it and see the result."
The challenge for the staff, Ryan said, was to make sure the team felt that pain, "but you also want them to move forward. So we moved forward and we're ready to go."
Having another Top-4 matchup, against Ohio State's century-old rival, certainly helped force the team to turn the page from the bitter loss in Happy Valley.
"You're back on the bike, get back in there," Ryan said.
|125||No. 4 Nathan Tomasello (5-1)||No. 9 Drew Mattin (17-7)|
|133||No. 2 Luke Pletcher (22-0)||No. 5 Stevan Micic (15-2)|
|141||No. 7 Joey McKenna (10-1)||Sal Profaci (10-10)|
|149||No. 6 Ke-Shawn Hayes (21-4)||No. 18 Malik Amine (12-8)|
|157||No. 5 Micah Jordan (20-3)||No. 7 Alec Pantaleo (12-4)|
|165||No. 14 Te'Shan Campbell (14-7)||No. 9 Logan Massa (10-4)|
|174||No. 3 Bo Jordan (18-3)||No. 6 Myles Amine (16-5)|
|184||No. 2 Myles Martin (22-1)||No. 5 Domenic Aboundader (17-3)|
|197||No. 1 Kollin Moore (18-1)||No. 12 Kevin Beazley (12-5)|
No. 1 Kyle Snyder (7-0) -OR-
Kevin Snyder (16-10)
|No. 2 Adam Coon (20-0)|
Ohio State's front half of the lineup largely got the job done versus Penn State, as the Buckeyes won four of the first five matches. Ke-Shawn Hayes dropped the only match prior to intermission, and though he gave up the tech in the waning moments, it's hard to fault him for losing to the No. 1 wrestler in the country, likely two-time Hodge Trophy winner Zain Retherford.
Tomasello wrestled one of the more surprising opening periods of the match, down a point at the end of the first three minutes to an unranked opponent. True to form, however, he battled back and secured the major decision.
Luke Pletcher, true to form, earned a one-point decision at 133. As Ryan noted, had either wrestler managed an additional bonus point, the outcome of the meet could have been different.
Joey McKenna's upset of No. 6 Nick Lee was perhaps the biggest highlight of the night. McKenna, largely overlooked this season due to a schedule featuring very few ranked opponents, gained no small amount of confidence in the win. He was visibly excited about the win in a post-match interview on the Big Ten Network, and again Friday meeting with members of the press.
After Micah Jordan's tech fall at 157, however, things went south fast for the Buckeyes. Top-3 wrestlers Bo Jordan, Myles Martin and Kollin Moore each dropped matches they could have won, with Martin giving up an uncharacteristic pair of backpoints in the final seconds that gave Penn State a bonus point.
The trio has no time to dwell on the past, as each man faces a highly-ranked Wolverine opponent. For Martin and the elder Jordan, they face a rematch from the final rounds of the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational in early November.
Luke Pletcher dec. Stevan Micic, 7-5
Alec Pantaloe dec. Micah Jordan, 10-3
Bo Jordan dec. Myles Amine, 6-4
Myles Martin dec. Domenic Abounader, 8-5
(2 of 2)
— Ohio State Wrestling (@wrestlingbucks) February 9, 2018
Ohio State should have the upper hand in the meet - the Buckeyes are favored in every match of the night but one - but for a team that's shown it is vulnerable, the focus will be on wrestling with more strategic aggression, taking shots and wrestling better tactically on the mat.
The University of Michigan Wolverines
Head Coach: Joe McFarland
Sunday night's probable lineups include:
- 19 nationally-ranked opponents
- 3 NCAA Champions
- 12 All-Americans
The Wolverines have pulled out all the stops to boost attendance for Sunday's showdown, moving the meet to the 13,000-seat Crisler Center. The school hopes to break its dual-meet attendance record, currently 5,200, set in 1967.
We're aiming to break our attendance record this Sunday. Tell us why you want to be there for #TheClashAtCrisler & you could win 2 t-shirts and 2 tickets to the dual vs OSU! #MaizeOut #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/JgEghLHQwk
— Michigan Wrestling (@umichwrestling) February 8, 2018
Joe McFarland is in his 19th season as head wrestling coach at Michigan. Big Ten wrestling blue bloods are Iowa and more recently Penn State, but McFarland has put Michigan right at the cusp of the conference's top tier.
Since taking the reigns in 1999, McFarland has led his teams to three Big Ten dual-meet championships (2004, '05, '06) and 10 top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships (2001-08, '16-17), including an NCAA runner-up performance in 2005.
He ranks third on Michigan's head coaching career wins list (203), behind legendary head coach Cliff Keen (1926-42, '46-70) and his own collegiate coach, Dale Bahr (1979-99). As a wrestler, he was a four-time All American in the maize and blue.
Michigan opened the 2017-2018 season 1-1 versus ranked teams, defeating Arizona State in a home dual at Detroit Catholic Central High School, and then dropping a shocking 27-8 loss to Lehigh on the road.
That lost would be the team's only blemish until January, when Penn State rolled into the Crisler Center and won 25-12 almost exactly a month ago.
Seven of the Wolverine starters are ranked in the Top 10 in their respective weight classes, most notably No. 2 Adam Coon at heavyweight. Coon is physically imposing, standing nearly 6-foot, 6-inches tall and weighing every bit the 285 pounds implied in heavyweight.
Kyle Snyder, by comparison, will weigh in somewhere between 220 and 225 pounds Sunday, and will give up at least 5 inches of height and reach to his foe.
The two combatants have faced each other once before, in the 2016 Big Ten Championship. Snyder emerged victorious.
Snyder is taking the match, and the size disparity, very seriously. He spent the week training with two-time world and Olympic champion Taha Akgul, a Turkish freestyle champion who wrestles in the heavyweight class and is much closer to Coon's size than Snyder's typical training partners.
Ohio State does list Snyder's younger brother Kevin as weighing in for the meet, so it's possible that Tom Ryan holds the elder Snyder out if the meet is well in hand. He said Friday that "as of now," Kyle will wrestle, but acknowledged that he's considered the risk of injury in a dual that matters very little in the grand scheme of things.
Ohio State holds the upper hand in almost every weight class, but the Wolverines will concede nothing to their rivals, particularly if a record crowd fills the Crisler Center Sunday afternoon.
Penn State's mark of 25-12 seems reasonable, though Ohio State will be gunning for a result closer to Lehigh's early-season upset.
After all, those gold singlets are pretty important to the Buckeyes.