Since Hunter Stieber and Nick Tavanello went down with injuries on Jan. 11, the Ohio State wrestling team hasn’t had its full starting lineup. But that trend is set to change.
Both wrestlers are set to be back at 100 percent for the Big Ten Championships on March 7-8.
Stieber (1-2) has wrestled just three matches this season, missing time with an elbow injury. His first attempt to come back was against Penn State and although he hung on to win the match, he reinjured himself and missed the next nine dual meets.
Since then, Stieber has been working his way back to full strength and said he simply wants to get back doing what he loves.
“The thing I’m looking forward to the most is competing again and doing the best that I can to help us win a team title,” the redshirt-junior said. “Practices have been a lot of cardio and strength exercises for me so now I’m excited to actually wrestle.”
The No. 5 Buckeyes recently lost in the quarterfinals of the National Duals by three points. But that was with Stieber still out of the lineup, and Tavanello back at less than 100 percent.
With a full lineup, Stieber said he believes the team has what it takes to win the Big Ten and national titles, but everyone must do their part.
“To have a full lineup is very important and we are going to need all 10 guys doing their part,” the 149-pounder said. “It’s exciting that we are all back and even more so that it’s the most fun part of the season.”
Stieber is a two-time All-American and has finished sixth and third in his first two seasons for the Buckeyes. He was a Big Ten Champion his sophomore year and entered the NCAA tournament as the top seed.
Redshirt-senior Logan Stieber, a three-time national champion and Hunter’s older brother, said he and the team are looking forward to getting him back.
“I’m excited for my brother’s return,” the older Stieber said. “We’ve all missed him and for him to return and for us to field a full lineup at Big Ten’s is encouraging.”
In order for Hunter Stieber to qualify for nationals this year, he said he will have to earn it in the Big Ten Championships.
“It looks like I will have to place in the top six at Big Tens to qualify for nationals, but I’m just glad to be able to get on the mat and wrestle again,” Stieber said.
Even with being out for such a long period of time, coach Tom Ryan said he believes if anyone can make a run at a title after being injured, it’s Hunter Stieber.
“Being out all year makes this extremely challenging for him,” Ryan said. “The good news is he is not your average competitor.”
Tavanello (13-8), a redshirt-sophomore, is also looking to be back to full health by the time the Big Ten Championships roll around. The heavyweight made his return last weekend in Iowa after missing more than a month of action with a knee injury — because the team needed a win to advance at the National Duals — but lost in sudden victory overtime.
Tavanello, who is currently ranked No. 12 in the country, said he is happy to be back helping his teammates.
“It wasn’t fun sitting out and missing all of the trips this season, but it’s good to be back and I’m hoping to contribute as much as I can for the team and to finish this season strong,” Tavanello said.
As to how he has worked his way back, he said he followed a strict diet so he could come back the same as he left, despite not being able to move as well physically.
“I’ve been working out, lifting and doing what I needed to do to get back and my recovery went pretty fast,” Tavanello said. “I also didn’t put on any extra weight as you see with a lot of guys going through injuries.”
Before last weekend’s 21-18 loss to Lehigh, the Buckeyes won nine straight dual meets. Tavanello said the team’s success has motivated him to get better.
“Everything this team has done has influenced me to work harder to get back so I can contribute to the season they’ve had,” he said. “We’re a close group of guys and we have each other’s backs and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”
Ryan said having Tavanello back could be crucial to the team getting the necessary points to win the upcoming tournaments.
“Nick played a critical role last season in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournament,” Ryan said. “Every point is going to matter. Nick’s points are capable of being the difference for the team.”
The wrestling Bucks are set to host the Big Ten Championships from March 7-8 at St. John Arena.