The Ohio State wrestling team is set to kick off the season in just over one week at the Michigan State Open. The Open presents the first real competition for the team that WIN magazine has ranked #2 in the nation, and that many expect to challenge for the national championship. Then, November 13 the season really gets started with the first home dual for the wrestling Buckeyes. As we head into that first dual meet competition, Land-Grant Holy Land will be releasing a three-part series taking a weight-by-weight look at the 2014/15 wrestling Buckeyes.
Instead of going in order, we're breaking the team down into three groups: The freshman three, the Stieber brothers, and the wildcards. Today, we'll be taking a look at the two wrestlers who will be counted on to be big-time point scorers each and every week: Logan and Hunter Stieber.
2014 Results: 30-1,
Accolades: 3x National Champion (12, 13, 14), 3x Big Ten Champion, 3 career losses (all avenged)
Simply put, Logan Stieber is arguably the greatest athlete at Ohio State, regardless of sport. He enters 2014 already the most accomplished wrestler in Ohio State history and favored to become only the fourth four-time NCAA champion in the history of college wrestling. It won't be an easy path: Zain Retherford of Penn State has beaten Stieber before and Mitchell Port is an elite wrestler, but anything less than a national championship would involve an all-time upset.
It sounds simplistic to say, but what makes Stieber so good is that he excels in every position. He's quick on his feet and explosive with his leg attacks. He's incredibly strong and able to dominate his opponents from the top position. His armbar series is probably the single most destructive force in the sport right now. Finally, only Retherford has ever kept him on the ground for any significant period of time. This multi-positional dominance makes him very tough to beat.
The Buckeyes will be counting on Stieber all season long not just to win, but to win big. In 2014, 28 of Stieber's 30 wins were of the bonus-point variety, including 10 pins and 11 technical falls (a "mercy rule" invoked after a wrestler opens up a 15-point lead). For the uninitiated, in college wrestling a victory is worth 3 points, a win by 8-14 points is a major decision and worth four points, a technical fall is worth five points in most instances, and a pinfall is worth six. Those bonus points are often the difference in a close dual meet or tournament.
Bonus points are especially important in the NCAA tournament. For an example, you just need look at Penn State's recent dynasty. David Taylor and Ed Ruth were bonus-point machines for the Nittany Lions, and that made all of the difference. Two wrestlers who advance deep in the tournament, earning bonus points every match can score as many points as three or four wrestlers who win the same amount of matches by decision. For the Buckeyes to win their first team title, they will need Stieber to continue his habit of winning big in March.
There are plenty of 141 pounders that will challenge Stieber this year, but none that are his equal talent-wise. As Dan Gable learned all those years ago, there are no sure things in the NCAA tournament, but if Mitchell Port, Zain Retherford, or someone of their ilk want to knock off Stieber, they'll have to do something that 2x national champion Jordan Oliver and 2014 national champion Tony Ramos couldn't do. They're going to have to beat Logan Stieber in March. I just don't see it happening. Logan ends the year with a four-peat and joins Cael Sanderson, Kyle Dake, and Pat Smith as the greatest champions in the history of the sport.
2014 Results: 18-0 in open competition (Redshirt year, 36-1 in 2013)
Accolades: 2x All-American (6th in 2012, 3rd in 2013), 1x Big Ten Champion (3rd in 2012)
Despite being the team's second-highest ranked wrestler, Hunter Stieber has flown somewhat under the radar in the lead-up to this season. Most of the buzz has been around freshman captains Bo Jordan, Kyle Snyder, and Nathan Tomasello, but the safest bet to join Logan Stieber atop the podium come NCAA tournament time is still Hunter.
As a true freshman, Stieber announced his presence loudly and quickly, defeating two-time NCAA champion Kellen Russell of Michigan. He would finish the year with a 28-7 record, a 3rd place finish at the Big Ten championships, and a 6th place finish at the NCAA tournament, earning All-American status. In 2013, as a sophomore, Stieber had his coming out party. He dominated the regular season and won his first Big Ten championship. Stieber entered the NCAA tournament undefeated and the #1 overall seed at 141 pounds. Unfortunately, Stieber was upset 6-7 by Edinboro's Mitchell Port, derailing his national title aspirations. Stieber would battle back, though, winning five straight matches for a third place finish.
In 2013/14 Stieber took a redshirt year. He wasn't injured, but Logan Stieber was going from 133 to 141 and senior Ian Paddock was at 149 pounds. Though Stieber was a better wrestler than Paddock, coach Tom Ryan thought it would be best for the team if he took a redshirt. That way, Paddock could wrestle his senior season and Stieber could bulk up to 149 pounds, setting the table for title runs in the 14/15 and 15/16 seasons.
From a stylistic standpoint, Hunter is great at controlling his opponent from the top position, though not quite as prolific from a point-scoring perspective as his brother.. He's very smooth on his feet, featuring beautiful high-crotch and single-leg attacks. He can also score bonus points when needed. In 2013, 18 of his 36 wins were of the bonus-point variety. He also scored 10 of 18 wins by bonus points in 2014 during open (unattached) competition. For the Buckeyes to accomplish their team goals this season, Hunter will have to continue to push for those bonus points.
149 pounds is a very difficult weight class this season. Defending national champion Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern is back and only a sophomore. 2014 141-pound runner-up Devin Carter of Virginia Tech is moving up to 141 pounds. Drake Houdashelt of Missouri, Josh Kindig of Edinboro, and Jake Sueflohn of Nebraska are all very good. Flowrestling has Stieber ranked second in its preseason rankings, and that's probably fair. Stieber is as good as anyone in his weight class, but there are several wrestlers who might be just as good as he is. I think he'll drop a match or two as the season progresses, but come tournament time, I expect a deep run. He will finish somewhere between 1st and 4th, but since we're a Buckeye blog and I have to make a prediction, I'll go ahead and slot him in at 1st, joining his brother atop the podium.