Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
After coming up short in its pursuit of the coveted NCAA National Championship, the Ohio State wrestling program is looking to use this season as a stepping stone toward its ultimate goal of winning a title.
Coach Tom Ryan said next year’s incoming talent will greatly improve the team’s chances at that goal.
“Recruiting is going very well,” Ryan said. “We’re bringing in two of the nation’s top wrestlers and they’re really going to add some firepower to our lineup.”
Both five-star recruits according to The Open Mat, Nathan Tomasello, a 125-pound wrestler from Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, has verbally committed to the Buckeyes, while Bo Jordan, a 160-pound wrestler from Graham High School in St. Paris, Ohio, has already signed his national letter of intent.
Ryan was disappointed with how the season ended and said the Buckeyes will have to push themselves harder next year.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done,” Ryan said. “We have the guys to do it (win a title). We just have to put ourselves in a better position to win it.”
The Buckeyes finished the regular season as the No. 6 team in the nation, posting an overall record of 11-4. In Big Ten play, the Scarlet and Gray went 5-3. The conference is arguably the best in the country when in comes to wrestling.
“This was definitely a good learning year for us,” said 141-pound sophomore Hunter Stieber. “Next year we’ll be a lot better than this year and hopefully go for a title.”
OSU got off to a hot start, placing first in the Buffalo Invitational and winning its first three dual meets. The Buckeyes then took home their second consecutive Cliff Keen Las Vegas Wrestling Invitational title and won both of their matches against Maryland and Hofstra in the inaugural “Grapple at the Garden” located in New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
The streak ended there, however, as the Buckeyes would be defeated by then-No. 5 Iowa in their first Big Ten action of the season. Despite the loss, the team rebounded by going 5-1 in its next six meets, suffering their only defeat in that span at the hands of Minnesota on Jan. 11 at home.
In their last match of conference play, the Buckeyes went head-to-head with Penn State in the first several bouts before falling to the eventual NCAA champions, 29-18.
After being rewarded an automatic bid into the finals of the NWCA/Cliff Keen “Mat Mayhem” National Duals because they were among the top four returning dual-meet teams from the previous year, the Buckeyes looked poised to make a run. But whatever aspirations they had soon faded as they were routed by Missouri, 28-6.
Next, the Big Ten Championships presented a challenge for OSU, even with six wrestlers earning top-10 seeds in the tournament. The team went on to place fourth with a total of 109.5 points. Winning individual titles for the Buckeyes were redshirt sophomore Logan Stieber at 133 pounds, his second-straight Big Ten title, and his younger brother, Hunter Stieber, at 141 pounds.
Next, at the NCAA championships, OSU amassed 59.5 points en route to a sixth place finish out of the 10 teams in the tournament. Both Stieber brothers earned No. 1 seeds for the championships, but Hunter Stieber placed third as his older brother earned the title of NCAA champion in the 133-pound weight class for the second year in a row.
“It was a pretty good season I guess,” Hunter Stieber said. “There was a little letdown towards the end, but I only lost one match this entire season as opposed to seven last year. I’ve improved but I just wish I could have wrestled for the title.”
Redshirt junior Nick Heflin placed fifth at 174 pounds and joins the Stiebers as an All-American.
“It’s what you work for,” Heflin said of earning the honor. “It means a lot, but you know, I definitely want more. I want to be the champion.”
125: Nikko Triggas, senior, 22-14
131: Logan Stieber, redshirt sophomore, 27-0
141: Hunter Stieber, sophomore, 36-1 / Ian Paddock, redshirt junior, 15-9
149: Cam Tessari, sophomore, 13-7
157: Josh Demas, redshirt sophomore, 20-12
165: Mark Martin, freshman, 19-18
174: Nick Heflin, redshirt junior, 20-7
184: Kenny Courts, redshirt freshman, 22-8
197: Andrew Campolattano, sophomore, 17-12 / C.J. Magrum, redshirt senior, 18-9
HWT: Peter Capone, redshirt junior, 17-6 / Kosta Karageorge, redshirt sophomore, 9-8
Looking forward, Heflin envisions big things for the program in the upcoming years, comparing the process they’re making to that of the Nittany Lions.
“It’s going to continue to grow,” Heflin said. “It’s going to be like Penn State. They got Cael Sanderson (2004 Olympic gold medalist) and now they’re becoming a powerhouse. I see that in Ohio State’s future, being a contender to compete with them in the next two or three years.”