Our friends Brandon Olinger and Ben Watson from The Inside Trip podcast give us a treat this week, previewing their Ohio State Buckeyes’ showdown with Arizona State this Sunday. Be sure to give them a listen and also don’t miss Brandon’s weekly WCWA update on TOM.
The 3rd ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will kick off their dual meet season when they host the 9th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils November 12th, 20, 7 in Columbus, Ohio. Fresh off an impressive performance at the Princeton Open, the Buckeyes will look to keep things rolling against a very talented Sun Devil squad. The Buckeyes ended the 2016-17 as arguably one of the best teams ever to not claim a team championship after the Nittany Lions of Penn State outscored the Buckeyes 146.5 – 110. In many years, 110 points would have been more than enough to secure a championship. This year’s Buckeyes aspires to reclaim the team title from Penn State at the 2018 NCAA Wrestling Championships. It will not be an easy task but with a potential lineup that includes three wrestlers who have previously claimed national titles, another four returning All-Americans, and some young up and comers who will be looking to make a name for themselves the Buckeyes definitely have the potential to get back on top.
The 9th ranked Sun Devils boast a young but very talented team that looks to continue the success they had last year. Arizona State secured their best performance at the national championships since 2011 with a 14th place finish. This year’s roster includes two returning All-Americans from 2017 and could be bolstered by the addition of two transfers that have also reached the podium, including past national champion Jason Tsirtsis. They also return many starters from last year’s squad who will no doubt be hungry to get on the podium. Coach Jones will definitely have some decisions to make as it pertains to his lineup this season. Logjams exist at more than one weight class. The Sun Devils recently competed at the Michigan State Open where they had 10 wrestlers place.
Below is a look at the potential matchups that could occur and our predictions.
125: Brakan Mead (Ohio State) vs. #7 Ryan Millhof (Arizona State)
With three-time All-American and past national champion Nathan Tomasello out of the lineup until December that means true freshman Brakan Mead will be holding down the 125 pound spot in his place. The Powell, Ohio native was a three-time high school state placer for Olentangy Liberty including a state championship his senior season. He recently went 4-2 at the Princeton Open, including two falls, as he wrestled himself to a fourth-place finish.
Zeke Jones could send out either last year’s starter at 125 pounds Josh Kramer or transfer Ryan Millhof. I expect we see Millhof as long as he is healthy. Two years ago wrestling for Oklahoma, Millhof was a Big 12 champion and earned All-American honors with a seventh-place finish at the NCAA Championships. He took a redshirt last year after transferring to Arizona State. He returns to the mat for the 2017-18 season and should be a strong podium contender. Currently ranked seventh in the country, he recently competed at the Michigan State Open where he finished sixth after defaulting out of the tournament in the semifinals. Mead is a grinder and is not afraid to battle but ultimately I think Millhof is on another level.
Prediction: Millhof by major decision, 4-0 Arizona State
133: #10 Luke Pletcher (Ohio State) vs Ali Naser (Arizona State)
Luke Pletcher returns to his natural weight this year after competing admirably at 141 pounds last year when Ke-Shawn Hayes went down with an injury. Pletcher tallied two wins at the NCAA tournament to make the round of 16. Last weekend, Pletcher won gold the Princeton Open. He had some close matches along the way including an overtime win over Lehigh freshman grappler Nick Farro. Farro, a three-time PIAA state place winner, is certainly a formidable opponent, but Pletcher needs to win those matches with less doubt to cement him as a legitimate All-American candidate in March.
Ali Naser is a great mystery to me. A cursory review of his NCAA history comprises no wins of note. His freestyle resume, however, is another story. Naser has freestyle wins over Coleman Scott, Sam Hazewinkel, and Nathan Tomasello. Luckily for Pletcher, collegiate wrestling is still of the folkstyle variety. For that reason, I give Pletcher the edge.
Prediction: Pletcher by decision, 4-3 Arizona State
141: Clay Ragon (Ohio State) vs. Nikko Villarreal (Arizona State)
It is unlikely that Ohio State fans see former All-American and current sixth-ranked 141 Joey McKenna here on Sunday. McKenna is getting ready to compete at the UWW U23 World Championships in Poland, November 21st-26th. I suspect Coach Ryan is giving him the same treatment he gave to Kyle Snyder last year with respect to the schedule and overseas competition. In his absence, I expect we see redshirt freshman Clay Ragon compete. Ragon was a two-time Ohio state runner-up in high school. Last year in his redshirt campaign, he competed in fifteen matches going 5-10. He most recently competed at the Princeton Open where he went 2-2. It is possible that Ohio State chooses to send out Brendan Fitzgerald who competed often last season as a true freshman. However, I am of the belief he will be taking a redshirt this season since he traveled to the Michigan State Open rather than the Princeton Open with the rest of the team.
Nikko Villarreal was a stand out wrestler in the state of California during his prep days. He was a three-time state champion and was twice named California’s outstanding wrestler. Wrestling as a true freshman for the Sun Devils last season, he went 8-12 on the season, including 4-8 in duals. He recently competed at the Michigan State Open where he finished with a sixth-place finish, going 3-2 on the day. One of his losses came at the hands of Ohio State’s Brendan Fitzgerald by fall in thirty-six seconds. Assuming that we see Ragon on the mat for Ohio State, I think the experience of Villarreal will be the difference maker in this match.
Prediction: Villarreal by decision, 7-3 Arizona State
149: #11 Ke-Shawn Hayes (Ohio State) vs #13 Josh Maruca (Arizona State)
Ke-Shawn Hayes had a superlative redshirt campaign in 2015-16 finishing 29-1. His only loss was to All-American Matthew Kolodzik of Princeton who Hayes split with that season. Hayes started out strong last year at 141 pounds accumulating a 6-1 record prior to his injury. This year, up a weight class, Hayes has again started off on the right foot. Last weekend at the Princeton Open he recorded three technical falls and one fall before dispatching Maryland’s 12th ranked Alfred Bannister in the finals 7-6. Hayes looks to keep the momentum going against 16th ranked Josh Maruca.
Maruca drew the short straw at last year’s NCAA tournament with an opening bout against Zain Retherford of Penn State. Maruca did land one of the bigger upsets of the tournament when he defeated Anthony Collica (Oklahoma State) in the second wrestleback round before falling to Lehigh’s Laike Gardner in the round of 16. Maruca was hot and cold at the Michigan State Open last week. He defeated 14th ranked Davion Jeffries but lost a head-scratcher to Division II NCAA qualifier Trey Grine of Tiffin. If the Maruca that beat Jeffries and Collica shows up, this match will be a delight.
Prediction: Hayes by decision, 7-6 Arizona State
157: #5 Micah Jordan (Ohio State) vs. #12 Josh Shields (Arizona State)
Two years ago, freshman Micah Jordan sacrificed for the team and made the cut all the way down to 141 pounds. Ultimately the grind became too much and he failed to reach the podium. Last year he bumped up to 149 pounds and took his game to a whole new level. It is no secret that Micah has always been great on his feet as a volume shooter however we began to see much improvement in his top game last season under the tutelage of Coach Jaggers. Finishing the season with a 33-5 record and a fourth-place All-American finish it is safe to say there are high expectations for him this year. We will see Jordan at his third different weight class in three years as he makes the move to 157 pounds. Picking up right where he left off, he recently reeled off four straight victories to capture the Princeton Open title.
The Sun Devils have quite the logjam at 157 pounds with several wrestlers who could be starting for other teams. At the recent Michigan State Open, they entered five guys at this weight in Josh Shields, Jason Tsirtsis, Christian Pagdilao, Oliver Pierce, and Andy Gandara. All five guys won matches with Josh Shields claiming the 157-pound title. For that reason, I think we see him compete here. Last year as a freshman Shields finished with a 33-9 record, including 12-2 in duals and claimed the Pac-12 championship at 157 pounds. He entered the NCAA Championships as the nine seed and, after a first-round victory over Jake Faust of Duke, lost two consecutive matches to bow out of the tournament. Shields has a great defense and really good short offense. I see him keeping it close with Jordan for a bit. Ultimately though, Jordan’s volume of attacks will be too much to fend off and I see him blowing this one open.
Prediction: Jordan by major decision, 10-7 Ohio State
165: #7 Te’Shan Campbell (Ohio State) vs #6 Anthony Valencia (Arizona State)
174 pounds will get most of the hype for this contest but I’m very intrigued by the 165-pound matchup. Te’Shan Campbell vocalized his decision to transfer to tOSU for the 2017-18 year before the ink was dry on the final 2017 NCAA brackets. Campbell, the 2017 ACC champ while wrestling for the University of Pittsburg, went 2-2 at the NCAA tournament last year. He steamrolled the competition at the Princeton Open last weekend while recording three technical falls and a major decision. There are no comparable competitions left on Ohio State’s schedule. Campbell will be tested early and often in the Buckeye lineup this year and it starts Sunday.
Anthony Valencia is a conundrum. We all know his story; Valencia, a three-time California state champ in high school, was the number one ranked recruit in the class of 2015. Because of his marvelous high school career, an unfair standard was set. Valencia had what many would consider a very successful season for most freshmen, but the bar has been set high for the young Sun Devil. Anthony won a number of close bouts during last season with solid wins sprinkled over his stat sheet. At the NCAA tournament, he won his first two matches, one a 9-2 victory over Campbell, before losing to Michigan’s Logan Massa and dropping his bloodround match to Cornell’s Brandon Womack, 3-2. Last week at the Michigan State Open he recorded four falls before again losing to Massa, 6-0, in the finals. There are two questions I have regarding this matchup. One, how much has Campbell improved in the Buckeye room? Two, is Valencia ready to take the next step in collegiate wrestling? There is little doubt that Campbell has and will continue to improve under the guidance of Tom Ryan and company, but I do not think it is quite enough yet to reverse the previous result between the two. The jury is still out on the latter question.
Prediction: Valencia by decision, 10-10
174: #3 Bo Jordan (Ohio State) vs. #1 Zahid Valencia (Arizona State)
The marquee match of the night will no doubt be at 174 pounds. Bo Jordan has been nothing but great for the Ohio State Buckeye wrestling team. He’s been a leader, a winner, and a role model. Somehow he’s managed to balance school, wrestling, and a family and still be one of the all-time greats in the program’s history. After two third-place finishes, he found himself in the finals of the NCAA Championships last year and was a controversial call away from being an NCAA champion. An amazing feat considering he spent the majority of the year injured, rehabbing, and bringing a new child into his life. This year he returns for his senior season seeking that elusive national title. Word out of Ohio State is that he is healthy for the first time since his freshman season and that is a dangerous thought for opponents. Rumor is that a devastating foot injury had prevented him from being his dominant self on top the last couple of seasons. That should change this year. As an Ohio State fan and a fan of college wrestling in general, I will try to cherish as much as I can of his senior season.
It did not take long for Zahid Valencia to force his name into the conversation of best wrestlers in college last year as a freshman. He finished the season with a 38-1 record with thirty-one victories by bonus points. Valencia rolled into the NCAA Championships as the top-seeded wrestler at 174 pounds after dismantling the competition all year. After reeling off three dominant victories he met up with another freshman in Mark Hall from Penn State in the semifinals. Hall ultimately won the match off of a penalty point for an unintentional head gear pull. Zahid would go on to finish third while Hall would defeat Jordan in the finals. Valencia recently got a little revenge against Hall when the two met at the NWCA All-Star Classic. In another low scoring match, Valencia was able to secure the only takedown to win the match. As an Ohio State fan and Ohio native I absolutely love Bo Jordan but admittedly I think Zahid is one of the best wrestlers in the country with the likes of Snyder, Retherford, and Martinez (just to name a few). I also do not think Bo matches up well stylistically with Zahid. Bo’s neutral offense is a bit limited. He needs to get to his snaps and ties to score. Zahid is great at wrestling in space, has some of the best level changes to a shot you will see, and is a super athletic. Additionally, Zahid is hard to ride and above average on top. I think in order for Jordan to win this match, he will need to get on top and turn Valencia and I’m not sure that happens.
Prediction: Valencia by decision, 13-10 Arizona State
184: #2 Myles Martin (Ohio State) vs. Conner Small (Arizona State)
Myles Martin picked up where he left off last year with a title at the Princeton Open. Martin recorded three technical falls and two major decisions, one over 20th ranked Michael Fagg-Daves of Rider. There is something about this kid that I just love. He took one for the team his freshman year when his redshirt was pulled and went on to win the NCAA title. Last year, he took another one for the team and bumped up to the brutal 184-pound weight class. He had varying degrees of success during the regular season and ground out an impressive NCAA fifth-place finish. Martin, a year older, has filled into the 184-pound weight class. I think we see more consistency with him this year and I have high expectations for this young man.
Martin’s opponent will likely be redshirt sophomore Connor Small. Small is currently 0-2 on the year and is in for a tough weekend. On Friday he will face fifth-ranked Domenic Abounader at Michigan and then travels to Columbus on Sunday where Martin awaits.
Prediction: Martin by technical fall, 15-13 Ohio State
197: #1 Kollin Moore (Ohio State) vs. Austyn Harris (Arizona State)
Kollin Moore had a fantastic freshman season last year that saw him end with a third-place All-American finish. He concluded the season tied for the team lead in wins with a final record of 33-4. He was second on the team in falls, tied for first in major decisions, and tied for third in technical falls. His only losses on the year came at the hands of the NCAA finalists, Brett Pfarr (Minnesota) and J’den Cox (Missouri). He followed his college performance up by earning a bronze medal at the 2017 Junior World Championships. Kollin is without a doubt one of the most exciting and offensive big men to watch. He has yet to compete this season as he withdrew from the NWCA All-Star Classic with a minor leg injury but we should expect to see him here.
Moore’s opponent will most likely be the redshirt junior Austyn Harris. Harris saw minimal action last year and ended his season with a record of 2-15. He recently competed at the Michigan State Open where he went 2-2 and failed to place. Like Small, he too is in for a tough weekend. On Friday he will face sixth-ranked Kevin Beazley at Michigan before coming to Columbus on Sunday where the top-ranked Moore will be ready.
Prediction: Moore by fall, 21-13 Ohio State
285: #1 Kyle Snyder (Ohio State) vs. #4 Tanner Hall (Arizona State)
It is highly likely that a Snyder wrestles on Sunday. I’m not sure yet which one. Kyle Snyder, fresh off his third straight world level title, indicated before the season that he was taking a brief hiatus from competition. Nevertheless, signs point to him wrestling in this dual. It is at home, I’m sure St. John Arena will be dropping yet another banner in his honor, and without Tomasello and McKenna, Ohio State may need him to win this duel. Selfishly, I hope he wrestlers. I am making it a priority this year to embrace every time this guy steps on the mat. You should too. If Kyle does not wrestle, he will likely be backed up by his brother Kevin. Kevin is a solid wrestler in his own right and placed second at the Princeton Open.
Tanner Hall capped off an excellent sophomore campaign with a third-place finish at the NCAA tournament. His only loss at the tournament was a close 5-3 decision to second seed Connor Medbery (Wisconsin). He is back for his junior season and will have something to say about who is wrestling Saturday night in Cleveland come March. Unfortunately for him, the best wrestler in the world resides at his weight.
Prediction: Kyle Snyder by major decision (Tanner Hall by major decision over Kevin Snyder if Kyle does not wrestle).
Final Outcome: Ohio State over Arizona State 25-13 or 21-17