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HITTING THE MAT

Ohio State grapplers primed to make their mark

OSU 1117

Oklahoma State’s Jordan Oliver, left, and Ohio State’s Logan Stieber compete in the 133-pound championship match March 17, at the NCAA wrestling championships in St. Louis. (AP PHOTO | JEFF ROBERSON)

Ohio State grapplers primed to make their markCall me crazy, but there is something special in the air this year when it comes to Ohio State wrestling.

After a record-setting season last winter, I say this time around the Buckeyes are more dangerous, have more momentum and more talent than ever before.

The potential is simply overwhelming.

The Buckeyes finished fifth last year at the NCAA national championships and have now placed eighth or higher in four of the past five seasons. Ohio State earned a pair of national runner-up finishes in 2008 and 2009, and were eighth in 2010.

After a forgettable performance in 2011, the Buckeyes bounced back last season with an impressive showing in St. Louis. They did not have a single upper classman in the lineup, but still managed to get four All-Americans, including a national champion.

Those results tied for the second-most All-Americans in school history and set a team record for most freshman All-Americans.

Ohio State had eight out of a possible 10 national qualifiers last season. That is something the Buckeyes have come to expect every season. With the talent in their wrestling room those expectations should be rising by the day.

Given the Buckeyes’ current recruiting class, I honestly believe they can be fighting for a national championship by either 2014 or 2015. A lot of variables go into that outcome, but Ohio State should certainly be in the discussion.

Two-time defending national champion Penn State and traditional power Iowa are always at the forefront of who the best team in the country is. The Nittany Lions are currently building something special in Happy Valley; well, so are the Buckeyes.

Ohio State beat Iowa at home last year during regular season for the first time in 46 years. I believe that is just the tip of the iceberg. If the Buckeyes continue to progress as a program and the talent continues to develop they could be in that same national power discussion year in and year out.

With Ohio’s reputation as one of the best wrestling states in the country, they should be.

Looking at the lineup

Headlining the Buckeyes this season is returning national champion and the top-ranked 133-pounder redshirt sophomore Logan Stieber. A four-time state champion from Monroeville, Logan was named Intermat Freshman of the Year. The last Buckeye to receive that honor was Ohio State great Tommy Rowlands.

The other returning All-Americans include sophomores Hunter Stieber (141) and Cam Tessari (149) and redshirt junior Nick Heflin (174).

Hunter, who is Logan’s younger brother, has unlimited potential in the college ranks. He knocked off 2011 national champion Kellen Russell of Michigan during the regular season, but lost to him in the national semifinals (5-2) last year. Hunter went on to finish fifth, while Russell won a second national title.

That foursome is the foundation for this year’s squad, but the rest of the returners and new recruits should have fans feeling the sky is the limit.

The rest of the returning national qualifiers are sophomore Johnni DiJulius (125), redshirt sophomore Josh Demas (157), sophomore Andrew Campolattano (197) and redshirt junior Peter Capone (285).

I was a big fan of DiJulius in high school and he is a tough kid. His role might take a back seat, though, with so many talented wrestlers near his weight this season. Campolattano, or ‘Camp’ as he is called, has become a fan favorite with flashy maneuvers on the mat and talent to go with it.

Then there is a group on the Ohio State roster that hasn’t received as much attention as the main four. It is also a group I feel will have an impact one way or another this season.

At the top of that list is redshirt junior Ian Paddock (141), who did not compete last year, but is a two-time national qualifier. He recently took second to Hunter Stieber by a 3-2 score at the Buffalo Invitational. He may battle to find a spot in this year’s lineup, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him emerge into a starter.

Next is senior Nikko Triggas (125), who is a returning All-American and three-time national qualifier. He took an Olympic redshirt last season and is a Greco-Roman specialist. Triggas competed at the United States Olympic Trials and was fifth at the 2011 U.S. Open.

He is scrappy and a tough leg rider. I’ve seen him get himself into some wild positions on the mat, which I tend to think does him more harm than good. However, I still expect him to end his career at Ohio State with a big finish.

There is also senior C.J. Magrum (197) as one of the veterans of the upper weights. He is a former three-time national qualifier, but I feel he may have run out of time. Magrum and Campolattano will be battling all season for the starting spot. Either way Ohio State will have a strong competitor at this weight.

I am also excited about several freshman on this year’s roster. Not all of them will play major roles for the team this year, but the future is what counts.

Mark Martin (165) is one newcomer who will contribute as he fills a hole in the middle weights for the Buckeyes. He was a two-time state champion for Lakewood St. Edward and could be a major player by the time his career is over.

The other two are lightweight star Nick Roberts (125) from Pennsylvania and Nick Tavanello (285), a three-time state champion from Wadsworth.

Roberts faces the same problem as DiJulius with a log jam in the lower weights. He should fill the role and equal the results Triggas had once Triggas graduates. Tavanello is type of guy you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley. Strong and bullish, he could push Capone for the starting spot sooner than some expected. He will impress.

Outlook

A lot of things can happen during the course of a season. Even with that in mind, Ohio State is still in position to do some big things this year. The Buckeyes can even afford to stumble along the way, but in the end I say OSU tops last year’s performance.

There is too much talent and too much depth for Ohio State not to deliver this year. You could say I’m just catching Buckeye Fever early in the season, but I believe that much in this squad.

If I were a gambling man, as I often am in Vegas, and had to take a guess at this year’s outcome, I would say Ohio State will have nine national qualifiers and six All-Americans.

I’m willing to take that to the bank.

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