Iowa Hawkeyes

Ohio State, Penn State expect to battle for NCAA wrestling title

Wrestling notes: Meredith seeks gold for Cowboys; Martinez, Snyder attempt fourth finals appearance

CLEVELAND — Only two teams have been in the national title discussion this season.

Top-ranked Ohio State and defending champion Penn State have been in a category of their own with little conversation of challengers to the top-two spots.

The talk of a fierce team battle between the two remains the same, leading up to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, beginning Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.

The Buckeyes qualified all 10 wrestlers and are looking for their first national crown since 2015. The Nittany Lions have nine in the field and have captured six of the last seven team titles.

“Both teams are really good,” Ohio State heavyweight Kyle Snyder said. “Penn State won it last year and wrestled really well. Five champions and all of them are returning. So obviously they have the firepower to compete at a really high level.

“But I would say that we are the favorite. I think just looking at the seeds, looking at our performance from last week, if everyone competes at the best of their ability, the best that they can, then I think it’s our tournament to win, our tournament to lose, I mean.”

Ohio State drew first blood in a tournament format, winning the Big Ten Championships by 16 1/2 points last week. Buckeyes Coach Tom Ryan wasn’t as definitive as his two-time NCAA champion big man.

“Penn State has a tremendous team this year, as does Missouri and many others here,” said Ryan, a former two-time All-American for Iowa. “When you look at the last competition that occurred, the Big Tens, if we can wrestle like that and our guys can compete to that level, we certainly have a shot.


“So, I don’t guarantee anything other than I believe my team is ready. I like where they are physically and mentally. They care about each other, and we’re ready to wrestle. So we’ll see Saturday night how this all shakes out.”

Last season, Ohio State won the conference tournament, but Penn State won the national tournament, taking gold in half the weights and starting talk of this year’s squad being one of the best ever.

“Yeah, I know I’m happy to be here and we’ll find out over the next three days if our team’s happy to be here,” Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson said. “But we have a great team of great young men that are just stand-up guys and great competitors and they love each other and we’ll see what happens after three days.”

Another battle could be for the other two team trophies. Lehigh has 10 qualifiers. Missouri and Oklahoma State have nine. Michigan was a distant third at the Big Ten tournament.

Missouri Coach Brian Smith was asked if his Tigers should be considered among the title contenders.

“You guys won’t, but that’s all right,” Smith said. “We’ve been the underdogs all year, so we’ll keep playing that.”

Penn State might be one short, but eight wrestlers are seeded. All but one are seeded fifth or better. Don’t forget about the five titlists, including Zain Retherford (149), Jason Nolf (157), Vicenzo Joseph (165), 174-pounder Mark Hall and Bo Nickal at 184.

“I think our guys are relaxed and ready to compete,” Retherford said. “So, I think it will be a fun tournament. But it’s no different than the way we’ve competed all year long. So kind of keeping that in the back of our minds.


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"It’s just another opportunity that we’re all kind of grateful for and it will all, the way we compete, if we compete hard, it will take care of itself. So just looking forward to kind of how it plays out.”

Penn State beat Ohio State in a dual but the Buckeyes have great depth for the tournament format. Snyder and Kollin Moore (197) are top seeds. Former NCAA champs Nathan Tomasello (125) and Myles Martin (184) are second seeds. All 10 Buckeyes are seeded with the lowest being 13th.

Ryan said the preseason polls and expectations have held throughout the season, for the most part. He praised Sanderson, noting that his program has pushed the Buckeyes to new heights.

“The fact that we have the team that we have and we know we’re in the serious dogfight speaks volumes to the team that Cael has,” Ryan said. “I believe that there’s a good chance that on Saturday night the second-place team will be the best second-place team to ever wrestle in the national tournament. That’s the kind of ability that some of these teams have here. Penn State being that team.”

Bryce Meredith seeks gold

Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith is the top seed at 141 pounds. The Cowboys senior has a chance to join elite company in the program. Meredith (29-1) will attempt to become Wyoming’s second NCAA champion, joining Dick Ballenger, who won the 167-pound crown in 1960.

Meredith, an NCAA finalist in 2016, could become just the fourth Cowboy to earn at least three All-American honors. Meredith, a native of Cheyenne, Wyo., came back to the program after starting at North Carolina State.

“And ultimately it was the greatest thing I could have done was come back to it because it put me in a place of happiness and brought me around my family and my friends,” Meredith said. “And I wasn’t worrying about other things then. I was just worrying about enjoying life and becoming a better wrestler.

“And without that, I was talking with one of my teammates yesterday in the car actually, I have no idea where I’d be in my career if I didn’t leave. So, luckily God pushed me back home and it’s been history ever since.”


Four-time finalists

Illinois’ Isaiah Martinez and Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder are attempting to become four-time NCAA finalists. Martinez (14-0) won two titles at 157 before a runner-up finish last year. Snyder, already an Olympic and World Champion, has won two straight national titles at heavyweight, finishing runner-up to Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson in the 197 final as a freshman.

Snyder (12-1) reflected on entering his final tournament for Ohio State.

“I think that I’ve had a great time at Ohio State,” Snyder said. “I’ve accomplished a lot of things, not just in wrestling but just feel like I’ve become a stronger man, stronger in my faith (and) mentally stronger. So, I’m happy with all of that. I’m happy with the way that my career went.”

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