For the Ohio State wrestling team, it appeared that everything was built for a 2015 title. The Buckeyes had multiple key wrestlers coming off redshirt seasons, were entering the final year of eligibility for the nation’s top-ranked wrestler in Logan Stieber and welcomed in the No. 1 recruit in the country in Kyle Snyder.
It all paid off with a national championship, the first in program history.
While everything went right in 2015, head coach Tom Ryan said the Buckeyes weren’t building a one-year contender and are far from satisfied with the national championship. While it appeared everything was set up for last season, the Buckeyes were actually constructing the foundation for the long haul.
“Everything was geared for that season in the start of winning several in a row,” the head coach said.
“I think the confidence in and trust in the training and the people that we have is really high. You can look through history and anytime something happened the first time, it normally happened a lot after that.”
That’s been true in the world of collegiate wrestling as six of the seven most recent teams to win national championships before the Buckeyes’ 2015 crown won at least two in a row. Ohio State joined an exclusive group with its first-ever national title, becoming just the fifth different school to win a title since 1989.
If the Buckeyes are going to defend their title as so many schools before them have, they are going to need to do so with a different type of performance than the one that won them the 2015 crown.
Individual championships from Nathan Tomasello (125 pounds) and Stieber (141), a runner-up finish from Snyder (197) and a third-place from Bo Jordan (165) provided a huge chunk of the 102 points the Buckeyes put up at the NCAA championships. In fact, the Buckeyes scored more points than second-place Iowa with just those four wrestlers.
Stieber exhausted his eligibility after winning his fourth consecutive national championship last season while Snyder is taking a redshirt season as he trains for an attempt to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
Jordan and Tomasello return, but without two of their best grapplers from last season, the Buckeyes will need a deeper performance in order to make up for the loss of Snyder and Stieber.
“What happened last year, I feel like the top guys performed at what they needed to perform at and were able to win it with just a couple guys scoring a lot of points,” Tomasello said. “This year it’s going to come down to can every single guy contribute a significant amount to a national championship race. That’s the mentality that we’ve had this whole summer. We’re losing two really, really good guys so the other guys on the team need to step up.”
Tomasello, who was a key part of the Buckeyes’ building process as he redshirted in 2014, will look to defend his title as a sophomore while the Buckeyes return two other All-Americans in Jordan and Kenny Courts (184).
Hunter Stieber, Logan’s brother who was part of the building process for the 2015 national championship after redshirting during the 2014 season, said that after winning the program’s first national championship the mentality around the team has changed this season.
“It’s a little bit different feeling,” he said. “We finally got the one under the belt. Not really relief, but we’ve got one already and we know that we have the talent that we can win it again. It’s kind of similar to last year how everyone is putting in the time, working hard and everyone knows that we are going to win it again this year and that we are going to have a great team without Logan and Snyder.”
Hunter Stieber will not be ready to wrestle until January, he said, as he continues to rehabilitate after multiple elbow surgeries, but the rest of the team should enter the season healthy.
Jordan said the team is confident that they can defend the title without two of the stars from 2015 and added that the young wrestlers are ready to step up.
While Ryan agreed with his wrestlers that the confidence level around the program has never been higher, the coach admitted some concern over complacency after the Buckeyes were the sport’s best a year ago.
“There was a different dynamic last year,” Ryan said. “There was more room for things to not go exactly our way to win. This year, I don’t know if we have as much wiggle room. You had a Logan who you could pen through the bracket. You had a Kyle Snyder who you are pretty sure that you can pen through the bracket. That’s 47 points out of the lineup of the 102 we scored. Where are we going to make those points up? It may not be in the horse that wins it, but it’s in the guys that finish fifth and sixth and third and fourth. We’re going to need 10 guys. A deep, team-wide performance.”