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Wrestling team prepares for NCAA Tournament

Senior captain Colt Sponseller has had many goals since he joined the Ohio State wrestling team, none bigger than winning a National Championship. Entering his final NCAA Tournament, Sponseller has one opportunity left to make his dream a reality.

“It’s my ultimate goal. It’s the goal I have had in mind since I came here to OSU,” Sponseller said. “To come out there and … go to nationals and win would be the icing on the cake.”

In his two previous attempts in the NCAA Tournament, Sponseller has not lived up to his goals. In his final season as a Buckeye, the 2011 tournament is Sponseller’s final chance to reach the pinnacle of college wrestling.

“It’s the last chance I have,” Sponseller said. “It’s one of the most important things in my life, and you’ve got to make it all count when it comes down to it.”

Sponseller has been wrestling at OSU for the past four years. He has made two NCAA Tournament appearances and has failed to finish as an All-American or better.

Coach Tom Ryan said helping Sponseller reach his goal is one of the most important things for his team at the NCAA Tournament.

“We have one senior; it’s very important that he reaches his goals, which is to be a National Champion,” Ryan said. “It’s important that our senior goes out the right way.”

Sponseller will compete as the No. 5 seed in the 165-pound bracket.

Sponseller is not the only Buckeye going to the national tournament. Sophomore captains C.J. Magrum and Ian Paddock, and freshman Nick Heflin will also wrestle for a National Championship. They all qualified because of their finishes at the Big Ten Tournament.

Freshman Peter Capone, 197 pounds, received an at-large bid into the tournament field.

“I think it would be very good experience, and I definitely think I could win some matches,” Capone said. “(An All-American finish) would be the goal and I would just wrestle as hard as I can.”

Magrum, who is unseeded, is coming off an impressive showing at the Big Ten Tournament, finishing fourth in the 184-pound weight class. After wrestling six matches during the weekend, Magrum, as well as the other Buckeyes, will return to the gym and begin preparing for the final tournament.

“The first thing I need to do is heal up and get some rest,” Magrum said. “Then we’ll come back for a few days, then tapper down and get ready for NCAAs.”

Magrum said the tournament is more about a mindset than physicality.

“I think the NCAA Tournament is more mental than anything,” Magrum said. “Anyone could show up on any given day an All-American.”

Heflin, who was disappointed with the runner-up finish at the Big Ten Tournament, said he will focus on the little things to have a better performance at the NCAA Tournament.

“I need to keep just working hard, come in for morning practices, watch some tape on (Edward) Ruth’s match,” Heflin said. “Do all the little right things. Sleep right, eat right, just prepare perfectly.”

Heflin will be the No. 10 seed at 174 pounds.

After a disappointing regular season, Ryan said he still expects his team to perform well in the NCAA Tournament and expects to bring home a group of All-Americans.

“I’d say a top-10 team performance would be good for us, with the season we’ve had,” Ryan said. “And we’ve got some of these underclassmen to step up, because they’re the leaders of the future and the leaders of next year’s team. It’d be nice to come home with a bunch of All-Americans and guys that are some underclassmen, ready to lead.”

To accomplish this goal, Ryan said he expects his athletes to go after their opponents, while sporting a strong defense as well.

“We need to wrestle tough. We need to be ready prepared mentally and physically and go after people,” Ryan said. “You need incredible defense and you got to pressure your opponent. So, if you do those things … we have a good shot at placing some people on the podium.”

The 2011 NCAA Division I Championships will take place March 17-19 in Philadelphia.

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