The Ohio State wrestling team begins its dual meet season today with a home tilt against Notre Dame College (OH). In advance of the matchup, Land-Grant Holy Land sat down with head coach Tom Ryan to discuss the team and its outlook for 2013-2014.
This season is a unique one for the Buckeyes. Coming off of a successful 2013 campaign that concluded with a sixth place finish at the NCAA tournament, this year's team is loaded with talent. The Buckeyes return three All-Americans in Hunter Stieber(9-0), Nick Heflin (5-0), and two-time national champion Logan Stieber (0-0). Redshirt Sophomore Kenny Courts (8-1) is also nationally ranked, checking in at #9.
However, as much talent as the Buckeyes will have on the mat in 2013/14, the story of the offseason has been the talent that won't be competing. Hunter Stieber, along with true freshman sensations Nathan Tomasello (10-0) and Bo Jordan (10-0), will redshirt this year. That means an All-American and two undefeated freshmen who won their varsity wrestle-offs won't be competing. Also sitting out the year is redshirt junior Josh Demas, an NCAA qualifier who will be taking a medical redshirt after having off-season surgery. "It's going to be a season with many unknowns," says Ryan. "You've got Logan who you can really count on. Nick Heflin is a two-time All-American, but he's going up two weight classes (174 to 197), and we're sitting guys like Hunter and Jordan who have less unknowns."
This doesn't mean that Coach Ryan is tempering his expectations. Two tournaments into the season, Ryan is developing a feel for his team. "It's going to be a really tough team," he says. "You have a bunch of young men who are really going to fight to be a top 10 team. There will be a lot of learning as the season goes on." To reach its goals, several Buckeyes are going to have to make the proverbial "leap" this season. Ryan mentioned Heflin, Courts, Johnni DiJulius, Randy Languis, and Nick Tavanello as wrestlers that he is counting on to take a step forward.
Key to the Buckeyes' success as a team this season will be the consistency provided by Logan Stieber, Intermat's #1-ranked pound-for-pound wrestler in the nation. Already a two-time national champion, the redshirt Junior has a chance to end his career as the most-accomplished wrestler in Ohio State history. Last season Stieber went 27-0 with 23 of his 27 wins being bonus-point victories (major decisions, tech falls, or pins). With that much success, some might wonder about complacency setting in. Ryan isn't worried, though. "There are still things that he wants to accomplish," says Ryan. "He hasn't won a Hodge Trophy yet (wrestling's answer to the Heisman trophy), he hasn't been Most Outstanding Wrestler at the NCAA tournament." Both are goals that Ryan believes Stieber can achieve, "Logan is extremely coachable. He just needs to keep it simple and work to get better every single day."
Matching up against the "other" Notre Dame
Notre Dame College is a small private school in Northeast Ohio that competes on the Division II level in wrestling. At first glance it might seem like an early-season tune-up match, but the Buckeyes aren't approaching it that way. "This is a good team, a tough team," says Ryan. "They're Division II, but they're better than a lot of Division I teams." It's not hyperbole, the Falcons are ranked #1 in the preseason Division II coaches poll. Five Notre Dame wrestlers are ranked in the top 3 for their weight class. These include: Maurice Miller (3, 141 pounds), Joey Davis (1, 165 pounds), Eric Burgey (1, 174 pounds), Brandon Johnson (3, 197 pounds), and Orlando Scales (2, HWT). "There are going to be some big matchups, especially at Heavyweight and 174," says Ryan.
While they probably don't have the firepower to pull off the upset, the Falcons should provide the Buckeyes with a significant early season test. The action begins at 7:00 P.M. at St. John's Arena. Those wearing black shirts will receive $2 off of admission and children eighth grade and younger can receive free admission with a paid adult admission. You can also follow the action on Buckeye Vision at www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com.
As for what those who attend can expect to see, Coach Ryan has a clear message "You're going to see a group of men that embrace the Ohio State style, which is an aggressive style based on attacking, building a lead, and constant movement. It's what fans love to see."