Photo courtesy of the Ohio State Athletic Department
Navigating through the minefield that is Big Ten wrestling might be difficult enough, but pushing through the toughest part of the conference schedule without arguably your best wrestler – a reigning national champion – is an entirely different challenge.
The No. 6 Ohio State wrestling team, however, has dealt with this problem the past five matches, emerging at a respectable 3-2 in the conference, but dropping tough decisions to No. 4 Minnesota and No. 3 Iowa.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t fare as well as I thought they would,” said OSU coach Tom Ryan. “Overall, some individuals handled it really well … the others didn’t handle it so well, but we’re in the middle of a hard training period getting ready for the end, so we’re looking forward to it.”
And here comes the calvary.
Redshirt sophomore and team captain Logan Stieber, the reigning 133-pound NCAA Champion, will make his return to the OSU lineup Friday against No. 8 Illinois in a pivotal, late-season Big Ten showdown after a lower leg strain kept him off the mat.
“I’m excited, you know it’s hard watching everybody and not being able to help,” Stieber said. “Illinois is a (top-eight) ranked team, so it should be a good match. I’m excited to come back.”
Some OSU wrestlers said with Steiber’s return, the team can get back on track.
“We should have handled it better,” said sophomore Hunter Stieber, Logan’s teammate and younger brother. “It didn’t help that we didn’t have Logan with us, but still, he’s one person, everyone needs to step up and be a leader, but we did an OK job with it.”
Illinois poses a tough challenge for the Buckeyes, but the prospect of Logan Stieber’s return has helped infuse some confidence in the team.
“I think the team’s excited,” Ryan said. “Fired up to have a solid unit in there, 10 guys, shoulder to shoulder, so I think it’s going to be great to get him back.”
Logan Stieber’s return likely means OSU can refocus on its team goals instead of worrying about the 2012 All-American and Big Ten Champion’s absence.
“I want to win a national title again,” Logan Stieber said. “We can bring home a team title.”
His coach agreed.
“We have to improve,” Ryan said. “We got a shot at winning a national tournament, but we got to get way better to do that. We can be a much better team than we are now, but everyone’s got to do the right things when nobody’s looking.”
OSU is set to take on Illinois Friday in Oak Harbor, Ohio, at 7 p.m.