After excellent performances that resulted in second-place finishes at each of the last two NCAA championships, the Ohio State wrestling program realized what the other side of the coin feels like this weekend.
The Buckeyes left Omaha, Neb., without any individual championships and with an eighth-place team standing, finishing well behind repeat champion Iowa as well as Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“Yeah, it was a tough weekend,” a clearly disappointed Tom Ryan told BSB. “We had several guys that put in the time in and put themselves in a position to win the national championship and it didn’t happen this weekend. If we wrestled again next weekend, maybe it does, but this weekend it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Senior 149-pounder Lance Palmer was the only Buckeye to make a final, falling 3-2 to nemesis Brent Metcalf in a marquee matchup Saturday night. Earlier in the day, senior 141-pounder Reece Humphrey ended his career by taking third, while junior 125-pounder Nikko Triggas earned his first career All-America honor with an eighth-place finish.
Palmer’s All-America honor was his fourth, joining him with Tommy Rowlands (2001-04) as the only grapplers in school history to achieve that distinction.
“He’s one of the great Buckeyes to step on the wrestling mat,” Ryan said. “There are more two-time national champs than there are four-time All-Americans. It’s a very difficult thing to do with injuries and all that. Nothing really went wrong to stop him from placing four times. It was an incredible career with Lance.”
Unfortunately, Palmer wasn’t able to duplicate his Big Ten championships feat in which he knocked off the previously undefeated Metcalf for the first time in his career. That win earned Palmer the top seed in the NCAA tourney ahead of Metcalf, and their showdown was among the most highly anticipated meetings of the entire tournament.
And only a few seconds in, Palmer was already behind the 8-ball. Metcalf took less than five seconds to shoot in for a takedown, grasping Palmer’s leg just as he did in the opening frame at the Big Ten meet. This time, Palmer wasn’t able to hop on one leg for nearly a minute, falling for the takedown 20 seconds in.
Metcalf began to ride Palmer, wrenching the Buckeye’s knee in the process and drawing an injury timeout after 50 seconds of riding time. Palmer eventually escaped to earn a point that made the score 2-1 and got another escape in the second period to tie the score.
However, the Iowa wrestler pushed his riding time advantage to 1:29 after two periods and then chose to start the third in a neutral position, negating Palmer’s strength on top. Metcalf then fended off the rest of Palmer’s attacks – including one with 25 seconds left that ended in a stalemate – on the way to clinching the title.
“At the beginning of the match we let the official know he was hurt, and the official didn’t stop the match,” Ryan said. “We’re trying to get the official’s attention, ‘Hey, this kid is hurt.’ It’s unfortunate that riding time was the difference in the match. Late in the match we just couldn’t get to his legs.”
Humphrey fell short of the title thanks to a 3-2, extra time loss to eventual national champ and No. 1 seed Kyle Dake of Cornell in Friday night’s semifinals. However, the fourth-seeded Humphrey made some amends by taking third on Saturday, downing Ohio’s Germane Lindsey 15-4 and then fifth-seeded Zack Bailey of Oklahoma in the consolation final 3-2 thanks to a first-period takedown.
“It was great to see him come back the way he did as a senior,” Ryan said. “It’s a heartbreaking loss but again, he responded the way he should and I’m proud of his performance coming back in the wrestlebacks.”
Triggas’ All-America honor was a bit surprising, but he captured four straight matches after dropping his opening bout. He ended up losing the seventh-place match 9-3 to Arizona State’s Anthony Robles but still had an excellent tourney.
“Nikko really stepped up,” Ryan said. “He’s one of the guys that came and really wrestled. He beat (James) Nicholson (of Old Dominion) in the round before the place and he beat (Jarrod) Garnett (of Virginia Tech) in the round to place, and both of those guys handled him during the year. He really came to wrestle. He put a lot of extra time in and I’m very happy to see him win All-America honors.”
Ohio State had two tough finishes at 165 and 184. At the former weight, junior No. 5 seed Colt Sponseller had another rough tournament experience, going 3-2 and losing to Stanford’s Nick Amuchastegui to fall short of placing. At 184, senior 2008 national champ Mike Pucillo, the 10th seed, lost an early rattail match and then ended up a step short of placing thanks to a loss to Oklahoma State’s Clayton Foster.
True freshman 133-pounder Ian Paddock and redshirt frosh C.J. Magrum at 197 both went 2-2 to cap their first campaigns.
“The future is bright,” Ryan said. “We have some freshmen here winning matches. Paddock is a special true freshman and Magrum redshirted and he will grow into 197 more. He’ll be a bigger, stronger 197-pounder. He is probably an undersized one this year. They’re great people. They work hard.”
Also, senior 174-pounder Dave Rella went 1-2 to end his career.