Ed. note – BAH GAWD! Introducing Dan Vest. One of the things Dan will tackle for the Holy Land is wrestling, but not *that* wrestling. Make him feel welcome in the comments below.
You can follow NCAA wrestling all season long and there is a good chance that you won't see more star power in a single match than will be on display this weekend as Ohio State's Logan Stieber faces off against Oklahoma's Kendric Maple at the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic. Both Maple and Stieber are coming off of undefeated national championship seasons and are ranked preseason #1 in their respective weight classes (Stieber, 141 pounds; Maple, 149 pounds). The matchup, which will be contested at 149 pounds, will give wrestling fans a rare opportunity to see two of the sport's best face off in a one-time-only affair.
Stieber is a redshirt Junior from Monroeville, OH, who is on pace to become the most decorated wrestler in Ohio State history. His redshirt freshman campaign saw Stieber post a 33-2 record on the way to a Big Ten Championship and an NCAA title, which he won in dramatic fashion over Oklahoma State's Jordan Oliver. Stieber was even more dominant as a sophomore, racking up 27 wins without a loss and earning his second Big Ten and National titles. Of his 27 victories, 21 came by either pinfall or technical fall (a sort of "mercy rule" that is invoked when a wrestler opens up a 15-point lead on his opponent). Add in one forfeit and what that means is that only five times all season was Stieber's opponent able to finish the match.
Maple, who is entering his Senior season at Oklahoma, didn't start his career quite as fast as Stieber, but he remains unquestionably accomplished. He holds an overall record of 102-18, including two Big 12 championships and one NCAA title. Last season was Maple's best as he dominated the 141-pound division en route to a 31-0 record, including 11 victories by pinfall or technical fall. While he may not have been as dominant as Stieber, often his close matches weren't all that close. Even his NCAA finals match, which he won 4-3, was a rather one-sided affair.
Stieber is known for his attacking style from the neutral position, looking for takedowns early and often. Maple, on the other hand, typically features a more patient, defensive gameplan.
As sudden and explosive as his takedowns can be, where Stieber truly separates himself is on the mat from the top position. Stieber is incredibly aggressive on top and, as seen here against Penn State's Jordan Conaway, he has a devastating arm bar series that he has used to finish many of his opponents. Maple is equally adept from the top position, though as his pinfall totals suggest, his style is more predicated on controlling an opponent rather than going for the finish. It's an effective strategy as Maple is able to use his length to create leverage and essentially smother his opponent, all the while earning valuable riding time. For an example of what I'm talking about, take a look at his 2013 NCAA finals match against Mitchell Port of Edinboro (especially note the first 90 seconds of the final period).
Maple presents a significant threat to Stieber. He's heavier and taller than Logan and he also has very long arms which he can use to keep the shorter, stockier Stieber at a distance. If he can score an early takedown and accumulate some riding time, he will have an advantage moving into the later periods.
Of course, that's much easier said than done. While Maple has the size advantage, Stieber is definitely the more well-rounded wrestler. He also has the experience advantage, despite being the younger of the two. This year (and previous years), Stieber spent his off-season with the U.S. National Team, competing against elite competition from around the globe-even defeating the #1-ranked freestyle wrestler in the world (60kg), Russia's Opan Sat.
What that means is, as gifted as Maple is, he's not necessarily bringing anything to the table that Stieber hasn't seen before. As long as he doesn't get over-aggressive, giving the defensively dynamic Maple the opportunity to catch him in a bad position, I expect Stieber to get pick up the victory. Maple has the physical advantage, but in wrestling more so than almost any other sport, that doesn't always matter. Nine times out of ten, it's the better wrestler who wins, not the better athlete. And in this instance, that better wrestler is Stieber.
Stieber - 6
Maple - 4