Wrestlers Want To Join Big Ten Fun

While other Ohio State programs rack up Big Ten championships, the one thing the powerful Buckeye wrestling squad hasn't done over its fantastic past few seasons is do well at the league's annual tournament. The third-ranked Buckeyes have a chance to rectify that this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich., and BuckeyeSports.com previews their chances in each weight class.

For those who hadn't noticed, winning Big Ten championships is in vogue around Ohio State.

Of course, football has won five in a row, the second longest run in league history. Men's basketball clinched a share of its third in five years this week, while the OSU women have earned an unprecedented six straight crowns. Heck, this past weekend the men's swimming and diving program claimed its first conference title since 1956, the year current swimming coach Bill Wadley was born.

So you can imagine how much the third-ranked Ohio State wrestling program would like to get in on the action. After all, the Buckeyes have finished second in the nation the last two seasons and want to stake their claim to superiority in the country's best wrestling conference, but the last two Big Ten tournaments have yielded finishes of only fifth and sixth.

"It's not what we strive for at all," senior Reece Humphrey admitted. "We've kind of looked past that, but the fact remains we haven't won a Big Ten title and we really haven't been in the running because we we've only had three or four good guys. Now we have a full team of guys who can place in the Big Ten and get them to nationals."

The Buckeyes travel for the 2010 edition this Saturday and Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich., looking to make a mark on the meet unlike in past seasons. Still in the way: top-ranked Iowa, which won both the Big Ten and the NCAA meets each of the past two years. The Hawkeyes also ended Ohio State's perfect league regular-season dual meet record with a 32-3 drubbing to end the season in Iowa City.

"I think pretty much it happened and we got over it," junior Colt Sponseller said of the match. "It's still here. It's something that still hurts, but I mean as a team I think we decided it happened and that's it. Tomorrow is another day. We improve off of that loss and go into Big Tens with a full head of steam."

In the match against the Hawkeyes, four of the Buckeyes' best wrestlers – Ian Paddock (133), Lance Palmer (149), Sponseller (165) and Mike Pucillo (184) – lost razor-thin decisions, showing that a turnaround wouldn't be all that hard to fathom.

"If you're beat by 12 in every match, it's like, ‘Oh my gosh, we got bludgeoned,'" head coach Tom Ryan said. "But almost every match came down to one takedown, and in some we didn't even get a chance to wrestle. I believe we'll turn around a lot of those losses. We can."

One of the keys will be being ready to go from the opening match. Ohio State struggled through the opening session a year ago on the way to a disappointing sixth-place finish, and any chance at a high placing means being at your best in every session.

"We need to be ready to go right away," Ryan said. "We can have a lot of guys in the Big Ten finals, plenty of Big Ten champions, but we need to be ready to go first round, no question about it."

Ryan said the team won't change its training methods used in the past before Big Tens. The team went hard a week ago in workouts but planned to spend most of this week saving energy for the gantlet ahead.

So why expect a better outcome this time around? Ryan's answer was a deeper lineup. In the past the Buckeyes had trouble at Big Tens picking up points from all spots in the order, but this year OSU was .500 in conference dual matches at every weight and enters with a seed in all classes, as well.

"We have a more balanced lineup," Ryan said. "I think more guys are going to be scoring points at the Big Tens this year than they have in the past. We're just across the board a better team. I expect to do extremely well."

What follows is a short breakdown of each of the 10 weight classes with the OSU wrestler's pre-tournament seed in parentheses. Records are the wrestler's overall mark on the season followed by their record against the likely Big Ten tourney field.

125: JR Nikko Triggas (6): Triggas (23-15, 3-5) will have a hard time advancing past the quarterfinals and third-seeded Zach Sanders of Minnesota, who beat him 6-3 earlier this year. The key for Triggas will be to pin those he can with his devastating arm bar to earn extra points for the Buckeyes. Any upset he can score would be a bonus to the Buckeyes, but he's better than a year ago when he went two-and-out and has the potential to be a positive surprise. Indiana's Angel Escobedo is the favorite to win a third straight title at this weight.

133: FR Ian Paddock (7): Ryan calls Paddock a wrestler who has the tools to make it to the Big Ten finals, and he's drawn into a quarterfinal matchup with second-seeded Daniel Dennis of Iowa, who he took to a 3-2 decision in Iowa City. Ryan said the intense and quick-learning Paddock (19-10, 4-4) just needs to work on his riding abilities, something that surely was focused on during the time off since the Iowa match. Getting past cat-quick Franklin Gomez of Michigan State, the third seed, would be a big ask in the semifinals. Minnesota's Jayson Ness is the favorite but Dennis and Gomez, last year's national champ, are in the running.

141: SR Reece Humphrey (1): The only Buckeye to enter as the favorite, Humphrey (27-2, 7-0) would be the victim of a major upset if he doesn't bring home the title. He's beaten top challengers Montell Marion of Iowa, Mike Thorn of Minnesota and Ryan Prater of Illinois this year and is a much better wrestler at 141 this year than he was last when he took second behind Gomez at 133.

149: SR Lance Palmer (2): The three-time All-American and freakishly strong Palmer (23-2, 7-2) has spent all season focused on finally winning an elusive title, as he's fallen just short of the Big Ten and NCAA crowns in his first trio of seasons. This year, his only two losses were decisions to Iowa's Brent Metcalf, the nation's No. 1-ranked wrestler, and Wisconsin's Kyle Ruschell, who is seeded third. Palmer will likely have to beat both to win the Big Ten. History is not on his side, but betting against him wouldn't be the wisest idea given his determination.

157: SO Sean Nemec (5): Nemec (14-6, 2-2) won a wrestle-off with redshirt freshman Tony Jameson to earn his nod for the Big Ten tourney. Ryan has raved about Nemec's practice habits and skills all year but it hasn't always translated to the mat, and the hope is his aggressive showing in dominating Jameson will show him the way at the Big Ten meet. The weight class isn't that tough past Minnesota's Dustin Schlatter and Penn State's Cyler Sanderson, so Nemec could surprise some. Schlatter, a one-time champ at 149 who started the year at 165, is the favorite to cap a decorated career with another trophy, although he begins the meet unseeded.

165: JR Colt Sponseller (3): Sponseller (24-4, 6-2) is an enigma, as he has all the talent in the world but has fallen just short come tournament time the past few seasons. This year, he had an excellent regular season but lost to the two wrestlers seeded above him, No. 1 Andrew Howe of Wisconsin and second-seeded Ryan Morningstar of Iowa. He says fine-tuning his mistakes will lead to success as Big Tens, but Howe and Morningstar will hold the reputation advantage until Sponseller posts a big win. Will it be here?

174: SR Dave Rella (4): Rella had a solid regular season and is ranked 10th in the country. The Penn State transfer is looking at a quarterfinal showdown with Illinois' Jordan Blanton, who he has beaten this year. After that comes Iowa's top-seeded Jay Borschel, a tough job, but Rella (22-7, 5-3) has the potential to score well for the Buckeyes in both the championship and wrestleback brackets. Borschel is the favorite but Purdue's second-seeded Luke Manuel also hasn't lost to a league opponent.

184: SR Mike Pucillo (4): A two-time national finalist and the 2008 Big Ten and NCAA champ, it's odd to see Pucillo (17-6, 3-3) ranked so lowly in the Big Ten and the nation (11th) coming in. But he had a rough regular season, capped by the loss against Iowa's Phil Keddy, and deserves the ranking. Now he has to fight back, and Ryan said Pucillo looks the best he has physically and mentally all year after battles with injuries and adversity. He'll draw favorite John Dergo, who has beaten him twice this year, in the semifinals, so the chance at revenge sits right there.

197: R-FR C.J. Magrum (8): Magrum could use a win or two to cement his NCAA tournament candidacy, and being drawn in a quarterfinal against top-seeded Iowan Chad Beatty isn't exactly ideal. But Magrum (16-12, 3-4) has been solid in the Big Ten even though he's been wrestling up a weight, and him making noise in the wrestleback wouldn't be a shock. The problem here is a top-loaded class – the seven wrestlers ahead of Magrum are all ranked in the top 15 in the country. Beatty, who has fought a broken foot, is the favorite but this is anyone's race – watch for Wisconsin's Trevor Brandvold.

HWT: SR Corey Morrison (6): Morrison had his typical solid Big Ten campaign and might feel a bit dissed by his seed, especially because he has a big win against fourth-seeded Ben Berhow of Minnesota on his docket. Unfortunately, being seeded sixth, Morrison (18-11, 4-4) draws third-seeded Cameron Wade in the quarters, and Wade beat him up 10-4 in the regular season. At the top, both Nathan Everhart of Indiana and Dan Erekson are seniors who are undefeated.

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