College basketball writers often describe the Big Ten conference season as a "grind." The league is so tough from top to bottom that there is never an easy game. Well, if Big Ten basketball is a grind, then Big Ten wrestling is a gauntlet. The top three teams in the NCAA rankings in order are Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa. Nebraska checks in at #9, Ohio State #10, Illinois #11, Northwestern #15, Wisconsin #18, Michigan #19 and Purdue #22. That gives the conference 10 of the top 25 wrestling programs in the country (7 of the top 15). As Ohio State found out last weekend when it lost to #18 Wisconsin and defeated #11 Illinois, that means a team has to be at its best every single night or it is probably going to lose.
It's not clear if the Ohio State wrestling team was at its absolute best last night against #15 Northwestern, but it was close. The meet, a home dual for the Buckeyes, was held at Moeller High School in Cincinnati, alma mater of Nortwestern's 165-pounder #9 Pierce Harger. The Buckeyes won six of the ten individual bouts, taking the dual 21-12 and improving their overall record to 7-2 (2-2 Big Ten).
Nick Roberts got things going for the Buckeyes with a 13-9 win over Garrison White. Roberts used an early takedown and both a two- and a three-point nearfall to jump out to a 7-0 lead. Roberts took a 12-2 lead into the third period but White would mount a furious comeback, scoring seven points in the final frame. However, White's comeback fell four points short and the Buckeyes had a 3-0 lead after one match.
Following Roberts was 133-pounder Johnni DiJulius who was held out of the last two dual meets because of an injury (not to protect matchups as some suggested). Two takedowns, two escapes, and a point for riding time were enough to give DiJulius the win against Dominick Malone. Up next was Logan Stieber, who was looking to continue his bonus-point victory streak. Each of Stieber's wins this season have come by technical fall, fall, or major decision. This matchup against Pasquale Greco of Northwestern proved to be no different. Stieber quickly took down his opponent and got to work from the top position, earning two consecutive two-point nearfalls followed by three consecutive three-point nearfalls, which was enough for a 15-0 victory by technical fall in the very first period. Senior Ian Paddock followed Stieber, losing a close 6-4 decision to #4 Jason Tsirtsis.
The 157 and 165 pound weight classes continued to be an issue for the Buckeyes as Randy Languis and Joe Grandominico both lost by decision. The three consecutive losses allowed Northwestern to tighten up the score, trailing 11-9 with four matches to go. Next to wrestle was Northwestern's #9-ranked Lee Munster, who needed only a decision victory over the Buckeyes' #17 Mark Martin to give the Wildcats the lead. For much of the match, it looked like that was exactly what Munster would get. However, trailing 3-2 late in the third period, Martin scored a takedown and held on, winning by a score of 4-3. The Buckeyes were up by four points with three matches remaining.
#8 Kenny Courts was up next for Ohio State, earning an efficient 18-4 Major decision over Jacob Berkowitz. Fellow #8 Nick Heflin fWith the match still in the balance, Ohio State recorded consecutive victories at 174, 184 and 197, propelling the team to its second consecutive Big Ten win. owed Courts for the Buckeyes against #17 Alex Polizzi. Heflin took an 8-4 lead into the third period and didn't let up, landing two more takedowns and 1:13 of riding time for a 13-6 victory. The dual meet ended with last weekend's hero Nick Tavanello dropping a gutty 6-2 decision to defending NCAA runner-up #4 Mike McMullan. Despite the loss, the freshman proved that he could hang with one of the better heavyweights in the country.
After losing its first two Big Ten duals, the 21-12 victory over Northwestern gives the Buckeyes two straight wins. Up next for Ohio State is its first dual meet in Columbus since mid-November next Friday, January 24 against #9 Nebraska. This will be Ohio State's fifth consecutive dual meet against a top-25 team. The gauntlet continues.