Left, middle photos by Richard Immel, right photo by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
While we work hard at TOM to be objective and as unbiased as possible, we all were fans before we started writing about wrestling professionally. With that, we have our favorite teams that we pull for and, especially this time of year, want to see do well. In that spirit, we thought it would be fun to let our hair down a little at the most exciting time of the college wrestling season to enter the Fan Zone. We’ll have fans of Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Iowa getting a little partisan over the next few days as they take a look at their team’s outlook as we head for Cleveland. For these pieces, at least, we’re going back to our roots as fans of the greatest sport in the world! Today Brandon Olinger and Ben Watson, The Inside Trip podcast duo, don their scarlet colored glasses to tell us why Ohio State will defend the land.
Regular Season Recap:
The Buckeyes entered the 2017-18 season with a lot to be excited about. Returning 107.5 points scored by the team at last year’s championships, the lineup was also bolstered by the additions of transfers Te’Shan Campbell and Joey McKenna. Campbell, a 2017 165-pound ACC champion for Pittsburgh and McKenna, who earned All-American honors for Stanford at the 2016 championships with a third-place finish, gave Ohio State, on paper, what appeared to be one of the greatest teams ever assembled from top to bottom. However, the question that lingered in in the minds of wrestling fans everywhere was would it be enough to compete with and overtake a Penn State wrestling team that was returning an astounding 144.5 points from their amazing performance at the 2017 tournament, including five national champions?
The Buckeyes were not without questions, though. Nathan Tomasello was going back down to 125-pounds after competing last year at 133. Many people questioned his ability to maintain the weight while still competing with his normal high octane pace. Also, the addition of McKenna meant the Buckeyes would be bumping two wrestlers up a weight. Ke-Shawn Hayes, coming off a serious knee injury suffered at the start of last season would be moving up to 149-pounds and returning All-American Micah Jordan would be moving up to 157-pounds. Concerns existed regarding their ability to compete well with the top guys up a weight class. It should be noted that Tomasello was also recovering from a knee injury suffered at the U-23 World Team Trials and would miss the first two months of the season.
The Buckeyes got off to a great start with a dominating performance at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite, finishing 15.5 ahead of runner-up Michigan even without Tomasello, McKenna, and Kyle Snyder. This success would carry over into the conference dual season during which the team would win all duals except a close loss to Penn State in a hostile Rec Hall environment. Included in their success were victories over Iowa and a dominating win over a top-five North Carolina State team to end the regular season setting the Buckeyes up nicely for the B1G 10 Championships. Buckeye fans were also very happy to see Tomasello, Hayes, and Micah Jordan all competing very well at their new weights.
Big Ten Championships:
For the second year in a row and the third time in four years, the Ohio State Buckeyes walked away from the Big Ten tournament as team champions. What we saw was a team who came ready to compete, prepared to battle and did so with a sense of urgency. The Buckeyes put nine wrestlers in the semifinals with seven moving on to the finals. By the time the dust settled, the Buckeyes had topped top-ranked Penn State 164.5 to 148.0. They accomplished this feat with four individual titles, from Nathan Tomasello (125), Joey McKenna (141), Kollin Moore (197) and Kyle Snyder (285). Tomasello’s title would be the fourth Big Ten title of his storied career. In addition, all 10 wrestlers earned automatic qualification to the NCAA Championships which sets the Buckeyes up with an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to defeat Penn State for the team title in their backyard of Cleveland, Ohio.
While there are many teams in contention for a trophy at the 2018 NCAA Championships, it’s a two-team race for the top spot. Ohio State will be relying on contributions from the entire team including top finishes from their heavy hitters to finish above Penn State and their big guns. Below are our thoughts on the Ohio State wrestlers’ draws and where we believe they will finish.
125: Nathan Tomasello – Champion
Nathan Tomasello enters the tournament as the two-seed with an 11-1 record after an impressive performance at the Big Ten tournament including victories over Iowa’s Spencer Lee and Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak en route to the title. His win over Lee avenged his only loss on the season when Lee defeated him in the dual 3-2. Tomasello’s draw sets him up nicely to cruise to the semifinals. He’s likely looking at Ryan Millhof of Arizona State in the second-round before seeing the winner of two outstanding freshmen in Utah Valley’s Taylor LaMont and Northwestern’s Sebastian Rivera. Regardless of who he faces, Tomasello will be making his fourth trip to the semifinals where he should meet up again with Lee in a rubber match. This match scares me for many reasons. First, there is the historical reason that Tomasello has lost to an Iowa wrestler in the semis each of the last two seasons. Two years ago, Thomas Gilman knocked him off and then last year we saw Cory Clark defeat him on his way to a national championship. Secondly, each of Tomasello’s matches with Lee has been a hard fought battle with the freshman only continuing to get better. However, in 14 minutes of wrestling between them, Tomasello has scored the only two takedowns and I like for that trend to continue. I see Tomasello meeting up with Nick Suriano of Rutgers in the finals and ultimately bookending his career with another national championship.
133: Luke Pletcher – 4th
Sophomore Luke Pletcher enters the tournament with a 26-2 record and the three-seed. Both of his losses were to Michigan’s Stevan Micic, who Pletcher did defeat earlier in the season on his way to a title at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite. Pletcher was not done any favors with his draw and with his penchant for keeping matches close regardless of talent level I’m sure Buckeye fans will be on the edge of their seat for every match he wrestles. I have confidence that he will push through to the quarters where he is likely to face either Pittsburgh’s Dom Forys or Scotty Parker of Lehigh, both highly talented and very dangerous. I think Pletcher sees the returning All-American Parker here and ultimately is dropped to the consolation bracket. Parker is a dangerous wrestler who has battled injury this but year but appears to be rounding into form at the right time. The backside of this bracket will be very dangerous and full of talented wrestlers all vying for a spot on the podium. There is a good chance that Pletcher will wrestle someone in the blood round that he has already defeated this year. I think he does so again to earn his first All-American, ultimately finishing fourth.
141: Joey McKenna – 2nd
Joey McKenna enters the tournament as the four-seed with a 16-1 record. He saw limited action this year in the early parts of the season as he prepared for the U-23 World Championships in which he earned a bronze medal at. Once back competing fulltime for the Buckeyes, McKenna has been nothing short of spectacular minus his one lone loss at the hands of Minnesota’s Tommy Thorn. Since that loss, an argument could be made that he is one of the hottest wrestlers in the country at the daunting 141-pound weight class. Closing out the regular season with impressive wins over Nick Lee of Penn State and Kevin Jack of North Carolina State, he then dominated his way to a B1G 10 title. He should push to the quarterfinals with little trouble which would set up a rematch with the five-seed Jack. The last time they wrestled, McKenna perfectly executed a repeatable game plan that completely shut down Jack’s style. I think McKenna does it again to set up a showdown with top-seeded Bryce Meredith of Wyoming. Meredith is very hard to score on and scrambles with the best of them. However, McKenna has done an outstanding job of getting to his leg attacks and finishing quick and I see him doing it here, ultimately defeating Meredith by a takedown to make his first NCAA finals appearance. Anything can happen however I see him falling to the young star freshman, Yianni Diakomihalis, of Cornell in the finals.
149: Ke-Shawn Hayes – 4th
Ke-Shawn Hayes has done an outstanding job bumping up to 149-pounds. He enters the tournament as the five-seed with a 27-5 record. Three of those losses come at the hands of Zain Retherford (Penn State) and Brandon Sorensen (Iowa). His other two losses were to Troy Heilmann (North Carolina) and Eleazar Deluca (Rutgers) in matches where he was actually winning before getting put to his back late. Hayes also has many good wins to his credit this year. Aside from being on the same side of the bracket as the two-time defending national champion, Buckeye fans couldn’t have asked for a better draw for the young buck. Assuming Hayes reaches the quarterfinals, which I believe he will, he will likely face the winner of Heilmann and Nebraska’s Colton McCrystal. Regardless who it will be, I like Hayes to push to the semifinals before dropping another bout to Retherford. It’s difficult to say who Hayes will see in the consolation semifinals, however, my bracket says the dangerous Grant Leeth and his neck brace of Missouri. I like Hayes to win there and ultimately finishing fourth.
157: Micah Jordan – 7th
Micah Jordan really took one for the team this year when he moved up to 157-pounds to make room for McKenna and Hayes after finishing fourth at 149-pounds a year ago. He’s had his share of high and low moments this season and will enter this tournament as the seven-seed with a 22-6 record. Even with six losses, he doesn’t have a bad loss on the year. Three have come at the hands of Michigan’s Alec Pantaleo who just seems to be a bad matchup for Micah. The other three were to Josh Shields (Arizona State), Michael Kemerer (Iowa), and Hayden Hidlay (North Carolina State). The Kemerer and Shields losses were both later avenged. The controversial seeding of this bracket didn’t do the young Jordan any favors. He is looking at a quarterfinal matchup against last year’s runner-up, Joey Lavallee of Missouri. Lavallee doesn’t always get the credit he deserves but is a very tough wrestler sporting a 29-1 record on the season as the two-seed. I don’t like this matchup for Micah and see him dropping to the consolation bracket. There is a very distinct possibility that Jordan will meet up with the second-round loser of the Pantaleo and Mitch Finesilver (Duke) bout in the blood round to make the podium. Buckeye fans are probably hoping for Finesilver and that is how I see it. I like Jordan to win that match before going on to finish seventh in a very tough bracket.
165: Te’Shan Campbell – Round of 12
Te’Shan Campbell enters the NCAA tournament with 17-10 record and the 13-seed. “Shan” placed ninth in Big Ten in the brutal 165-pound weight class which housed nine wrestlers ranked in the top 15 in the country. This is Campbell’s third trip to the NCAAs. His previous two were as a wrestler for the University of Pittsburg. Last year, Campbell had a hint of success at the championships finishing 2-2. This year has been a seesaw season of sorts for the newly minted Buckeye. He started the season with nine straight wins, including a 14-0 drubbing of 15 seed Anthony Valencia (Arizona State). The Valencia win had many Ohio State wrestling fans, including myself, confident that Campbell would be a contributor at the NCAA tournament. Since the win streak ended, Campbell’s record is 8-10. Much of the decline is a product of the 165-pound weight class in the Big Ten. Nine of his 10 losses are to guys seeded in the top 12 at the championships including the two, three, five, six, and seven seeded wrestlers. All that to say, I’m not sure exactly what Ohio State wrestling fans can hope for in Campbell. His draw is adequate, but Campbell will have to pull at least one upset to find a spot on the podium. Campbell opens the tournament with unseeded DaWaylon Barnes of the University of Oklahoma. Barnes is a fine wrestler but Campbell’s skill and NCAA experience wins out in this match. Campbell will likely face four seed Chad Walsh of Rider in the second round. Walsh, a two-time All American, is the heavy favorite in this match. The Bronc has been known to give wrestlers fits with his scrambling and turns on top. I have Campbell dropping the match to Walsh. From there, Campbell will face a string of capable opponents in a quest to reach the blood round. If Campbell can navigate those, anything goes. Ultimately, I see Campbell improving on his previous NCAA appearance but unable to find a step on the podium.
174: Bo Jordan – 3rd
Bo Jordan enters his final NCAA tournament as the six seed which is lower than his seed in his three previous championship appearances (5,3,3). With that said, all five of Jordan’s losses are at the hands of top-five seeded wrestlers. Jordan is already a three-time All-American, never finishing below third at the big dance. At the start of the year, I would have wagered good money that the streak would continue. Since then, Jordan has lost two matches to Michigan’s Myles Amine, the last coming by fall in the Big Ten semifinals. Jordan does not have a bevy of top-flight wins this year but, absent his losses to Amine, has taken care of business as I expected. At first glance, it may appear that Jordan has a very manageable quarter of the bracket. However, there are multiple landmines he must navigate if he wants his shot for revenge against Mark Hall of Penn State. He opens his final NCAA tournament with returning All-American Brandon Womack of Cornell. Womack has struggled this year but if you’ve made the podium once, you can do it again. I still think Jordan wins this match. I do believe it will be close, something like 7-4. In the second round, Jordan will likely see the cagey senior David Kocer from South Dakota State University. Kocer, already a two-time NCAA qualifier, is not a pushover. I like Jordan to advance to the quarters where a match with three seed Daniel Lewis of Missouri, who is 29-0 this season, is looming. Lewis, a junior, is already a two-time All-American with finishes of fourth and sixth. Jordan owns two victories over Lewis but both came at165 two seasons ago. With my scarlet and grey colored glasses on, I’ll take Jordan to win a nail-biter and advance to his fourth straight NCAA semifinals where he will face Mark Hall (Penn State). Jordan is 1-2 against Hall, with Hall winning the last two matches. Unfortunately, I don’t see Hall’s mini-streak ending and Bo loses in the semifinals for the third time in four years. I can assure you that very few people hope I’m wrong about this prediction more than me (Jordan family and Ohio State wrestlers/coaches excluded). The good news is that I believe Jordan will win out in the consolation bracket and finish his career as a four-time All-American never placing below third.
184 Myles Martin – Champion
It is not disingenuous when I say that past NCAA champion Myles Martin, is one of the most improved wrestlers in the country this year. Outside of four matches, the 27-2 Martin, who enters as the two-seed, has not been tested. Martin has several dominating wins over wrestlers seeded in this bracket. Of note, Martin has a win by technical fall over seven seed Taylor Venz of Nebraska and two comfortable wins over five seed Domenic Abounader, of Michigan. Martin should continue his dominating ways racking up bonus-point victories in his first two bouts of the tournament. In the quarterfinals, Martin will likely face Venz or 10-seed, Emery Parker of Illinois. Parker sent Martin to the backside of the NCAA tournament last year with a 14-9 second round win. I don’t see the same result occurring this year. Whether it’s Venz or Parker, I like Martin to win a relatively uncontested decision to push to the semifinals. My guess is that the three-seed, Ryan Preisch of Lehigh, will be Martin’s opponent. Preisch, in his limited action this year, has done enough to make me a believer. His only non-injury default loss this year is a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Penn State’s Bo Nickal. Preisch has wins this year over many of the top guys in this weight class. Ladies and Gentlemen, this match is going to be a battle. I’ll take Martin to get it done with multiple takedowns setting up another installment of the MyMar vs. Nickal show. Let’s be honest here; this is the match that we all want to see. Nickal is 2-0 against Martin this year and has controlled each match. However, one time in each of the last two years, Martin has been able to crack the code. Does he do it again this year for all the marbles? He does and Martin claims his second national title in three years.
197: Kollin Moore – Champion
This past offseason I perceived Kollin Moore as one of the bigger locks to win the NCAA tournament. Last year, as a freshman, Moore had a dominating season and only lost to the NCAA champion and runner-up. He pinned his opponent in the first period to take third. I considered him almost unstoppable at 197 pounds. Although Moore has completed a strong regular season, it was not as commanding as I expected. Take his two losses away and I think this opinion still holds water. Nonetheless, Moore enters his sophomore NCAA tournament as the top-seed. Moore should cruise to the quarterfinals where a potential rematch of last year’s quarterfinal is possible against nine-seed Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State. Moore pounded Weigel last year in the quarterfinal match, 13-5, before Weigel battled back to take sixth in the tournament. I like Moore to push to the semifinals. I find myself in an interesting conundrum regarding the other quarterfinal on Moore’s side. On the one hand, it would help Ohio State’s chances of winning a team title if the five seed, Shakur Rasheed of Penn State, loses his quarterfinal matchup to Michael Macchiavello, the fourth seed from North Carolina State. That said, Macchiavello defeated Moore this year in the dual meet. Macchiavello is a big dude. I’m not a huge fan of the Moore vs. Macchiavello matchup. Regardless of my opinion, the NCAA will let Rasheed and Macchiavello settle it on the mat. I think Rasheed gets the win which sets up a rematch of the B1G 10 finals. As much as I don’t like a potential clash with Mr. Macchiavello, I am a fan of the Moore vs. Rasheed matchup. Moore was able to control Rasheed from neutral during their last meeting and avoided going under the dangerous Nittany Lion. I think we see a similar outcome this time around except that, if Rasheed is down by multiple takedowns when it is his choice, he will choose top. Even so, Moore gets it done and moves on to the NCAA finals. Your guess is as good as anyone’s regarding the bottom half of this bracket. I’m going with freshman sensation Ben Darmstadt of Cornell. Darmstadt is the two seed and for good reason. He is 30-1 on the year and has avenged his only loss multiple times. The kid is a monster on top. That said, I think Moore is strong enough to avoid serious danger. I like Moore to win a wild bout and his first NCAA title.
285: Kyle Snyder – Champion
I am genuinely sad about writing this portion of the article. Kyle Snyder has given so much to the Ohio State wrestling program and wrestling fans in the United States in general. What’s scary is that he is just warming up on the international level. Snyder has done everything that has been asked of him by the Ohio State team. He’s a three-time All-American and two-time national champion. I’ve often heard that Snyder is a generational type talent. Certainly, I agree, but I also think he is a generational type leader. I would not have blamed him if he forwent the rest of his college wrestling career to focus on his world and Olympic goals after he won his first world gold medal. Snyder is wrestling for Ohio State because he loves his teammates and he loves his coaches. I truly think it’s that simple. It’s admirable. I’m going to miss him in the scarlet and grey but am eager for what’s ahead in the red, white and blue. Regardless of the fanfare, Adam Coon of Michigan wants nothing more than to send Snyder out on a sour note. Coon, in his own right, is an elite wrestler. He proved as much this year by beating Snyder 3-1 in the final dual meet of the season. Snyder avenged the loss in an exciting overtime victory at the Big Ten tournament. I’d be surprised if Snyder vs. Coon is not the last bout of the night. This past summer, Snyder needed a win in the finals of the World Championships to clinch the team title for the United States over Russia. He did so over the consensus top-ranked pound-for-pound wrestler in the world. It was the second coming of the Miracle on the Mat when Rulon Gardner beat Aleksandr Karelin. Penn State and Ohio State could be in a similar team race. Snyder has done everything that has been asked of him by the Ohio State team. What a way to end your college career this will be.
Team: Ohio State – NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
There you have it! Ohio State will put five guys in the finals and finish with four champions and nine All-Americans to take the crown back from the Nittany Lions of Penn State and go down as one of the greatest teams in history. I do know one thing, The Inside Trip will be there to watch and you should be too!
Brandon Olinger and Ben Watson are NCAA wrestling fanatics and hosts of The Inside Trip wrestling podcast. Brandon is also the WCWA correspondent for us here at TOM. You can follow Brandon on twitter @brando413, Ben on twitter @bawlaw, and The Inside Trip @theinsidetrip1. You can email them @ firstname.lastname@example.org. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-inside-trip-wrestling-podcast/id1185713582?mt=2 and find the podcast on most other podcast hosting sites.