Wrestling Team Closes Out Best Season in School History
By Kevin Schlosser
(St. Louis, Missouri) The Ohio State wrestling team will return to Columbus from the 2008 NCAA Tournament as the most successful postseason team in school history. They brought seven wrestlers to St. Louis and every person contributed to their second-place team finish. The Buckeyes had four All-Americans, three finalists and two national champions.
Leading the way for OSU were J Jaggers and Mike Pucillo each taking first place, J.D. Bergman with a second, and Lance Palmer an eighth. Reece Humphrey was a match away from joining his teammates as an All-American. Making their first trip to nationals Nikko Triggas and Jason Johnstone both added wins. Three of their four losses were to eventual place winners.
“Iowa brought nine wrestlers; we brought seven. To wrestle for first we needed a little more help from some of the other guys that were here. Giving them credit, they certainly helped; Humphrey had three wins, Triggas scored bonus points and Jason Johnstone came up with a win,” said OSU head coach Tom Ryan.
“It was a total team effort to get second. Iowa got off to a good start and we could not catch them, but we look forward to some great battles with the Hawkeyes in the future.”
The Buckeyes' previous team high at the NCAA Tournament was a tie for third in 2004. The team has never had three finalists before but they did have two national champions in 1993. Last season Ohio State rose as high as eight at the NCAA tournament; this year they were never lower than eight at the end of any round. The bar was raised last year and team accepted the challenge and raised it again this year..
“It was a great weekend to be a Buckeye wrestling fan. We set a precedent and elevated the expectations and standards of the program,” continued Ryan.
“We want to win championships and it was great to see this group of guys compete the way they are capable of.”
While the team would have liked to win a title, they can accept second place for the time being with eyes on the future and believing the best is yet to come.
“There is a buzz around the state like there has never been before and that is important to us as a program,” stated national champion J. Jaggers.
“Ohio is a hotbed of high school wrestling. This weekend shows kids that you can win a title at Ohio State. It may not have happened in the past but it is happening now. We want to be the ones to take down Iowa.”
The wrestlers are the ones who step on the mat, but they could not compete at the level they do without the support of their coaches, families, friends, and fans.
“The fans are amazing and their support incredible. It is in the culture of the state, they want to win as much as we do. A lot has happened in a short period of time,” commented Ryan.
“We are doing things the right way with the right people. We are making good choices with class and building the program with hard work and class.”
One thing that was not lost on the coaching staff or the team was the way they responded this weekend.
“One of the most impressive things was Saturday morning at 10:00 we had one guy wrestling and the whole section was packed with Buckeye fans,” observed Ryan.
“They got their butts out of bed early in the morning. They didn’t have to be there but they got the job done hat says a lot about the people that support this program.”
The fans also made an impact and an impression on the wrestlers as well.
“We are gaining new fans every day and it definitely helps on the mat. You don’t want to let yourself down, but you also don’t want to let your fans down,” asserted Mike Pucillo.
“People care about Ohio State wrestling and that helps with motivation, attendance, and recruiting. If we can put up a fence around the state of Ohio we are going to be competing with Iowa for national titles. We had a great season but the best is yet to come.”
Ryan took a moment to reflect on the weekend and look forward to next year.
“It means a lot to me personally to do a great job in St. Louis. We all have times in life that are difficult and when you have a weekend like this it makes everything else a little bit easier. I could not be any more proud of our team, the staff, and the Ohio State fans,” concluded Ryan.
“We made a statement this weekend but we still have to keep working hard every day. The ultimate goal is to win a national championship as a team and as individual wrestlers. This isn’t the end, it is only the beginning.”
2008 NCAA Tournament: Final Team Standings
1. Iowa (117.5 points; National Champs: 2; All Americans 7)
2. Ohio State (79 pts; NC: 2; AA: 4)
3. Penn State (75 pts; NC: 1; AA: 4)
4. Nebraska (74 pts; NC: 0; AA: 4)
5. Iowa State (72 pts; NC: 0; AA: 7)
5. Oklahoma State (72 pts; NC: 0; AA: 4)
7. Central Michigan (69 pts; NC: 0; AA: 4)
7. Michigan (69 pts; NC: 0; AA: 4)
9. Cornell (67 pts; NC: 1; AA: 4)
10. Minnesota (61.5 pts; NC: 0; AA: 4)
12. Indiana (43 pts; NC: 1; AA: 2)
13. Northwestern (41 pts; NC: 1; AA: 2)
14. Illinois (40.5 pts; NC: 0; AA: 2)
17. Wisconsin (31 pts; NC: 0; AA: 2)
28. Michigan State (15.5 pts; NC: 0; AA: 1)
30. Purdue (14.5 pts; NC: 0; AA: 0)
Ohio State Wrestling Talking Titles & All Americans:
The Buckeyes had four returning All-Americans this season and everyone repeated with three wrestlers reaching the finals. Both Jaggers and Pucillo beat undefeated opponents to win their first titles and J.D. Bergman finished runner up at heavyweight. While the team wanted to have three national champions; they were pleased with the way they performed.
“J Jaggers is a team leader; he wants to do well every time he wrestles in practice or in competition. It could not be any more fitting to have him win the first title of a new era in Buckeye wrestling,” stated Tom Ryan.
“Starting in January he gained a lot of confidence and that was what was stopping him from reaching his full potential. He had an incredible weekend, beating the third, second, and first seed. He is an all-around great wrestler. The window to win a national championship is so small and he battled through it and found a way to win.”
For those who watched Jaggers title match, you know how close he was to being forced to default with a serious ankle injury with sixteen seconds left in the match. In one of the gutsiest performance I have seen on a wrestling mat, Jaggers battled his way through adversity and injury to win his first individual national championship and become a two time All-American.
“I heard it crack and felt the pain; it was cracking for a good five seconds. I tapped out a few times and the match was not stopped. When I screamed he knew what was going on and ripped it a little more,” offered Jaggers speaking of the injury.
“That was a dumb move on my part, but no fault to him because he was out there trying to win a national championship too.”
“I have my share of injuries, I tore my UCL in my elbow, I have torn my ACL, I have had a high ankle sprain before and this is definitely worse. Sometimes you reach a point where you have to ask yourself how bad you want it,” continued Jaggers. “Nothing is guaranteed in this sport. I knew I could win it this year and I knew I had to take to take advantage of the opportunity I created. It is a great feeling to win a title, now I have to prepare to come back and win another.”
The Buckeyes picked up their second individual national championship at 184 pounds. Unlike Jaggers who won in regulation, Pucillo won his title in overtime by riding his opponent long enough to build a six second riding time advantage to give him the criteria to take the title.
“Pucillo is a winner, his composure is incredible. He has a plan every time he is on the mat and is never flustered,” said Ryan.
“Varner is known for his riding ability and Mike found a way to win. They thought if it went to overtime he would have the advantage and in essence Pucillo beat him at his own game.”
“Anytime you have the top two guys in a weight class going at it you know it is going to be a war. The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country if not the best and that helped prepare me for the tournament,” commented Mike Pucillo.
“I knew Varner was undefeated and he didn’t want to lose either. It means a lot to win a title and for the team to take second. I have two more years to try to do it again and I want the Buckeyes to be number one before I am done.”
“Mike has the perfect temperament for this sport. If you do it once you might be lucky but he has done it every time he is out there,” continued Ryan. “You saw that against Todd, against Jordan, and Varner. He works hard every day so it wasn’t a surprise to see him do so well on the biggest stage.”
J.D. Bergman was the only Ohio State finalist that did not have his hand raised before he walked off the mat. Despite the loss, Bergman had a very successful senior season and is one of four three-time All-American wrestlers in the history of the program.
“We really wanted to see J.D. win, he is a senior and a leader. He wrestled his heart out. He went after him and made him wrestle, but he didn’t capitalize when he needed to. When it is all said and done he can feel very proud that he represented himself well,” stated Ryan.
“We know he wrestled to the best of his ability. It doesn't make it any easier and it doesn’t solve the disappointment but he will always be recognized as one of the best wrestlers in Ohio State history.”
Sophomore Lance Palmer was closer to reaching the finals then a lot of people realize. Unless you were there to see it, his performance may get lost in the results. In the toughest weight class in the college wrestling, it is an accomplishment for Palmer to place. While he wanted to win a title, like Pucillo he has two more years to come back and get the job done.
“Lance is a two-time All-American and is going to be a four-timer. There are more two-time national champions then there are four-time All-Americans. That is a difficult feat and has been one of his goals since day one at Ohio State,” Ryan. “He was two double legs away from winning a national title. He is an inspiring kid and we are fortunate to have in the program. This weekend is only going to motivate him to work even harder.”
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