Nick Heflin, the self-proclaimed "darkhorse" entered the Big Ten wrestling tournament in Madison, Wisconsin as the #2 seed. So did his teammate, defending national champion Logan Stieber. The Ohio State wrestling team itself? It was picked to finish sixth. By the time the final whistle blew, all three had outperformed their seeding. Heflin and Stieber were champions, the former for the second time and the latter for the third. As a unit, the team finished fourth, just behind Penn State, Iowa, and Minnesota, the #1-,#2-, and #3-ranked teams in the nation respectively. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes. Three wrestlers who won wrestle-offs, including All-American Hunter Stieber, are redshirting. Still, it's March and the Buckeyes are competing blow-for-blow with the best in the nation. Seven Buckeyes qualified for the NCAA tournament this weekend, with at least one more likely to earn an at-large bid.
Let's take a weight-by-weight look at how the weekend turned out:
Freshman Nick Roberts entered the tournament as the eighth seed, but ended up wrestling so well that head coach Tom Ryan took to Twitter to single out his performance. Roberts dropped his first match to eventual runner-up Nico Megaludis, but followed it up with a win over Sam Brancale of Minnesota and an upset of #5-seed Conor Youtsey. Roberts would end up placing sixth, two full spots above his seed, and earning an NCAA tournament berth.
Johnni DiJulius, the#6-seed at 133, joined Roberts as a sixth-place finisher , dropping a 10-4 decision to Illinois' Zane Richards in the fifth-place match. He will also be participating in the NCAA championships in two weeks.
All weekend long, there was only one 141-pound matchup that everyone wanted to see. It was two-time national champion Logan Stieber versus the only man who had beaten him in two full seasons, Penn State freshman Zane Retherford. Stieber cruised to the finals, tech-falling #7-seed Steven Rodrigues of Illinois 15-0 and dominating #3-seed Chris Dardanes of Minnesota 9-0. Much to the surprise of many in attendance, he was nearly as dominant against Retherford. Stieber scored a first-period takedown and rode out Retherford for most of the first period before giving up an escape. In the second period instead of following convention and choosing to start from the down position, Stieber chose to begin the period in neutral. This showed the incredible amount of respect that Stieber rightfully has for Retherford's ability from the top position. In the second period, Stieber took Retherford down again and turned him for 2 near-fall points, making the score 6-1 going into the third. In the third, Retherford took down. Stieber would give up a reversal, but it wouldn't be enough as the riding time bonus point gave the Buckeye a 7-3 win and his third Big Ten title in four years.
Fifth-year senior Ian Paddock wrestled just below his #6 seed, coming in seventh at 149 pounds. He will have to hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament (which I expect him to receive).
Also hoping for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament is Randy Languis. Languis was seeded 11th in an incredibly deep 157-pound weight class and did not place. Languis lost a heart-breaker 2-1 to #5-seed Dylan Alton of Penn State that would've put him on the podium.
Entering the tournament as a #10-seed, Joe Grandominico lost his first two matches, ending his tournament short of the podium. He will have to hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Mark Martin performed just about as-expected this weekend, using a 6-2 decision over Collin Zeerip of Michigan to secure a seventh-place finish and a spot at nationals.
Seeing his first action since suffering an injury at the National Duals, #6 seed Kenny Courts earned a major decision over Nikko Reyes of Illinois, securing a fifth-place finish and a spot at the NCAA tournament.
Entering the tournament at the #2 seed, Nick Heflin was on the tough side of a pretty deep bracket. To earn a spot in the finals, he would have to defeat #7 seed Alex Polizzi of Northwestern. Heflin won that match, using a cradle to secure the pin at 1:08 of the first period. Next up it was #3-seed Scott Schiller, who just a few weeks ago was ranked #1 in the nation. Heflin would have to scratch and claw for every point, but in the end he pulled out the 3-2 victory setting up a finals showdown with #1-seed Morgan McIntosh of Penn State. The first period went by without a score as each wrestler tried to feel the other one out. In the second period, Heflin started on top but was quickly reversed by McIntosh, putting the Buckeye in a 2-0 hole. Heflin was able to escape before the end of the period, earning a point and leaving the score at 2-1 entering the third. Heflin started the third period on bottom and quickly escaped again, tying the score at 2-2. The period ended and the match headed to sudden victory. The first overtime period saw neither wrestler manage to secure a takedown. Then, in the ride outs, each wrestler earned an escape. The score was 3-3 and the match was headed to a second sudden victory. As the period was coming to a close, McIntosh took a shot. Heflin was able to stop his momentum, spin around and score a takedown with one second left on the clock , winning the match and securing a Big Ten Championship.
Freshman #10-seed Nick Tavanello won some big matches for the Buckeyes this season. Perhaps no win was bigger than the won he recorded this weekend against #1-seed Adam Coon of Michigan in the consolation bracket. The win eliminated Coon and assured that Tavanello would be on the podium in the deepest weight class at the tournament. Tavanello would go on to lose his next two matches, but it was still enough for an eighth-place finish and a spot in the NCAA tournament.