Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Two NCAA team wrestling champions for Ohio in 2015?

Time to ponder the $18,000 question?

We'll get to Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith's bonus for Logan Stieber's third NCAA title later in this post.

For now, let's explore the possibility of two Ohio programs winning NCAA team wrestling titles in 2015.

Notre Dame College will enter the season as the reigning Division II champion. As of now, the Falcons will have three returning national champs: 157-pounder Jonatan Rivera, 174-pounder Joey Davis and 184-pounder Garrett Lineberger. Things are subject to change with Davis, who is being pursued by multiple Division I programs.  

NDC's 2014-15 roster will be stacked. Last week, we examined the Falcons' prowess. Even if Davis leaves, Coach Frank Romano's team should be a prohibitive favorite to repeat in 2015.

Only one team defeated NDC in a dual meet this past season: Division I Ohio State. This brings us to the 2015 Division I team race.

Penn State has won four straight national titles after decades of mixed results. By cultivating abundant wrestling resources, ranging from spectacular donor and fan support to Pennsylvania's deep high school talent base, Coach Cael Sanderson has constructed a dynasty.

But Penn State loses two mega-talents in 165-pounder David Taylor and 184-pounder Ed Ruth. The duo combined for five NCAA individual titles and scored points in bunches. Replacing them is the biggest challenge Sanderson has encountered since arriving at Penn State.

The program best positioned to topple a Penn State lineup without Taylor and Ruth might be one looking for its first NCAA team title. 

Ohio State finished sixth last weekend in Oklahoma City, an encouraging performance considering  Coach Tom Ryan redshirted two four-time Ohio state champions, Nathan Tomasello (125 pounds) and Bo Jordan (165), and All-American 149-pounder Hunter Stieber, Logan Stieber's brother.

Besides Logan Stieber, a 141-pounder who could become the fourth four-time champion in Division I history, Ohio State returns NCAA qualifiers Nick Roberts (125 pounds), Johnni DiJulius (133), Mark Martin (174), Kenny Courts (184) and Nick Tavanello (285). A few returning NCAA qualifiers are in jeopardy of losing their jobs because Ohio State's recruiting class includes three elite talents in Kyle Snyder, Micah Jordan and Thomas Haines. The possibility of producing a four-time NCAA champion and winning a team title in the same season  might convince Ryan to unveil his best lineup in 2014-15.

Snyder, the nation's No. 1 overall recruit according to InterMat, skipped his senior high school season to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He's projected to replace NCAA finalist Nick Heflin at 197 pounds. Jordan, a four-time Ohio state champion, could start immediately at 157, and Thomas Haines, a four-time Pennsylvania state champion, should immediately challenge Tavanello for the heavyweight spot. Two-time Beachwood state champion Ryan Harris is also part of the Buckeyes' recruiting class.

In a strange twist, NDC's Davis could be a wrestler who decides the 2015 Division I team race. Ohio State and Penn State have expressed interest in Davis, who handled Martin in a dual meet this season. Davis should immediately compete for All-American honors -- and perhaps a national title -- at the Division I level. Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Cornell are other contenders for the 2015 team title.

Davis hasn't made a decision on his future. His father, Joey Davis Sr., told The News-Herald earlier this month Davis might take a year off from competition in 2014-15.

As Logan Stieber chases his fourth NCAA title and the sport's top programs chase Davis, Smith will be depositing a big check.

Next year's check should be bigger if the Buckeyes win their first NCAA wrestling team title in 2015.

-- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy

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