After a strong follow-up season to its national championship, the Ohio State wrestling team is set to travel to Iowa City, Iowa, looking to repeat as Big Ten champions.
Last year, the Buckeyes picked up 120.0 points on their way to a share of the Big Ten crown. The conference championship was their first in 64 years.
In addition, two Buckeyes were able to capture individual titles, with then-redshirt freshman Nathan Tomasello at 125 pounds and then-senior Logan Stieber at 141 pounds. OSU does not have Stieber this year, but it has a group with impressive accolades from this season.
The Scarlet and Gray will present nine ranked wrestlers this weekend. Leading the way for the Buckeyes are the top-seeded Tomasello and redshirt freshman Micah Jordan. Tomasello has not lost a match all season and is currently boasting a 36-match win streak, which is the longest winning stint at 125 pounds.
Jordan is one of three freshmen to earn a top seed for the tournament, along with Penn State’s Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal.
OSU has a ranked wrestler in every weight class except for 149 pounds, because of the recovery of two-time All-American Hunter Stieber, who is sidelined because of injuries sustained last season and surgeries this offseason. It is likely redshirt freshman Cody Burcher will replace the redshirt senior in the lineup after he was injured against Wisconsin early this year.
The Buckeyes have a tough road ahead of them, as both Iowa and Penn State have not lost a dual meet against a conference opponent all season. Penn State topped OSU earlier this season, knocking off the Buckeyes 24-14. Iowa shared the Big Ten championship with OSU last year.
Even with the top-ranked opponents ahead for the Buckeyes, the team and coaching staff believe they are primed to shock the wrestling world once more.
“You know who you are, you know how you train, and you just go be you,” OSU coach Tom Ryan said. “We’ve just found that the guys who get so caught up on winning and losing, fear becomes more real than to those who think otherwise.”
The environment is always hostile for the teams coming into a conference foe’s home arena, but things are expected to be even more intense for the Buckeyes after the victory last year. Even with a target on their backs, the Scarlet and Gray are not shying away from the test.
“A lot of eyes are on us because of winning it last year,” redshirt senior Johnni DiJulius said. “The eyes on us I don’t think change how we are going to wrestle. We are still the same wrestlers, and we still have the same potential.”
DiJulius finished fourth at the tournament last season, and the Buckeyes are hoping this is the year he finally claims the elusive individual title to add to his impressive career.
It would be easy for the team to lose focus on the task at hand and concern itself with the pressure that lies ahead. Ryan said he knows exactly how to keep his athletes ready and at the top of their game.
“We just talk about loving it,” Ryan said.
That love Ryan is talking about could very well lead to the Buckeyes needing a bigger trophy case after this weekend.
The tournament is set for Saturday and Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. Session I on the first day is set to begin at 11 a.m., while Session II is scheduled for 1 p.m.
With several wrestlers returning to the tournament from last season, there are a number of prospective rematches. The most notable of these is the potential match at 125 pounds, which would feature Tomasello versus Iowa’s Thomas Gilman. Last year, the two met in the tournament final.
Another notable potential rematch features OSU redshirt sophomore Bo Jordan and Wisconsin’s Isaac Jordan. The opponents are first cousins and already faced each other this season, with Isaac Jordan winning it 6-4.
NCAA championships next
After the conclusion of the Big Ten tournament, the Buckeyes will prepare to travel to New York City for the national championships. OSU will be looking for a repeat after winning its first team title in the program’s history.
The NCAA tournament lasts from March 17 to 19 at Madison Square Garden.