Joey McKenna became a four-time conference champion Sunday in Minneapolis, winning his second Big Ten title at 141 pounds to go along with a pair of Pac-12 crowns he brought with him from Stanford. The senior defeated No. 20 Chad Red of Nebraska handily in the final round of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships, joining teammate Myles Martin atop the winners' podium inside Williams Arena.
Martin's path to his fist conference championship wasn't nearly as satisfying, as 2nd-seeded Shakur Rasheed of Penn State medically forfeited the match. Rasheed was largely absent from the PSU lineup over the past two months, ostensibly due to a nagging injury.
"It's not the same feeling as actually wrestling and winning," Martin told Big Ten Network reporter Shane Sparks after the match. "It kind of feels like I just got handed the Big Ten title. I only wrestled two matches in this tournament so it's a little weird."
Martin said that his goal this season is to "master the sport" and continue getting better in every position. He'll roll into Pittsburgh for the NCAA Championship as the No. 1 seed with a flawless 20-0 record.
"It kind of feels like I just got handed the Big Ten title ... It's a little weird, but I'll take it."— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) March 10, 2019
- @wrestlingbucks' Myles Martin, on winning @B1GWrestling championship due to forfeit pic.twitter.com/t6QixPjOsG
McKenna had the biggest win of the day on the mats with his 9-2 decision over Chad Red of the Cornhuskers. As has tended to be the case in postseason action, McKenna's foe failed to score a single takeown in the match, while McKenna a pair of takedowns, a reversal and a pair of near-fall points in the bout.
"A lot of it right now is just staying calm, cool and collected," McKenna said of his unflappable performance on the biggest stages of the season. "I know I'm a really good wrestler, but I just need to trust in God, trust in my preparation and just go out there and let everything happen."
The New Jersey native and 4.0 student said he "held too much back" in the past, and that he was trying to "unleash" his potential in his last weeks as a collegian. He has a single goal in mind: his first NCAA title.
Along with McKenna and Martin, three other Buckeyes earned the right to compete for a Big Ten title. Unfortunately Luke Pletcher, Micah Jordan and Kollin Moore each came up short, and will add "Big Ten Runner-up" to their resume instead of "Champion."
Pletcher dropped a 4-1 decision to Nick Suriano of Rutgers at 133 pounds. Suriano is extremely tough and wrestled an excellent tournament, but Pletcher fell prey to his own tendencies in another low-scoring affair.
At 149 pounds, Micah Jordan faced the second Scarlet Knight in the finals in No. 1 Anthony Ashnault. The pair wrestled a hard-fought battle and the title-favorite capitalized on a couple of Jordan miscues to pick up the 8-6 victory; it seems a certainty that they'll be seeded 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh.
Then at 197, Kollin Moore faced Hodge Trophy favorite Bo Nickal of Penn State. Nickal didn't pin Moore this time, but he had an answer for every shot Moore took, and the junior from Wayne County couldn't measure up to one of the most dominant wrestlers in recent memory. As with 149, it seems a strong likelihood that the two will be the top two seeds at the NCAA tournament.
Nine Tickets to Pittsburgh
Malik Heinselman became the ninth member of the roster to earn an automatic bid to Pittsburgh, battling his way through a mini-bracket Sunday for the conference's 9th and final bid at 125 pounds. The true freshman from Colorado upended Ethan Rotondo of Wisconsin in his last match in Minneapolis, demonstrating a flair for scoring along with a need to get heavier and stronger on top.
With his bid, every Buckeye earned an automatic entry to the national tournament save Chase Singletary at heavyweight. He was bounced from the tournament late Saturday, and will now wait for Tuesday's at-large bids to see if he too can compete in Pittsburgh.
Ke'Shawn Hayes was the only other Buckeye to taste victory in the placement matches Sunday, avenging his earlier loss to John Van Brill by a 5-3 decision to finish in 7th. Te'Shan Campbell and Ethan Smith each dropped close decisions in their final bouts to finish in 6th Place at 165 and 174 pounds, respectively.
|125||Malik Heinselman, decision over Ethan Rotondo (Wisconsin), 8-5||9th Place|
|133||No. 4 Nick Suriano (Rutgers), decision over No. 10 Luke Pletcher, 4-1||Runner-up|
|141||No. 3 Joey McKenna, decision over No. 20 Chad Red (Nebraska), 9-2||Champion|
|149||No. 1 Anthony Ashnault (Rutgers), decision over No. 2 Micah Jordan, 8-6||Runner-up|
|157||No. 8 Ke-Shawn Hayes, decision over No. 17 John Van Brill (Rutgers), 5-3||7th Place|
|165||Isaiah White (Nebraska), decision over Te'Shan Campbell, 3-2||6th Place|
|174||No. 12 Dylan Lydy (Purdue), decision over No. 14 Ethan Smith, 5-3||6th Place|
|184||No. 1 Myles Martin, victory by medical forfeit over No. 7 Shakur Rasheed (Penn State)||Champion|
|197||No. 1 Bo Nickal (Penn State), decision over No. 2 Kollin Moore, 10-3||Runner-Up|
Despite forfeiting Rasheed at 197, Penn State's string of defending NCAA Champions paced the conference to end Ohio State's streak of Big Ten tournament titles. The Nittany Lions bested the Buckeyes by 34.5 points, while Ohio State cruised past the rest of the field with a 15-point margin over third-place Iowa.
Ohio State heads back to Columbus for a final week of preparation for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, March 21-23 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.