Updated Tue, Mar 5, 2013 5:31 pm
With the 2013 Mid-American Conference Championships just s few days away, the Ohio Bobcats’ wrestlers are completing their final preparations before they head to Buffalo N.Y., to take part in the tournament on March 10.
The Bobcats are rolling into the MAC Championships, winners of seven straight meets, and with an overall record of 11-5. The success has been a full team effort no doubt, but a few Bobcats will be entering the tournament firing on all cylinders.
Sophomore Harrison Hightower (165 lbs.) is currently ranked in the top five in D-I of the NCAA with 11 pins. He is in the midst of a streak in which he has recorded five consecutive first period pins.
Redshirt freshman Cody Walters currently leads the team with 32 wins, and just two losses. His last loss came on Jan. 2. Since suffering his second loss of the season, Walters has won 12 consecutive matches.
Heavyweight Jeremy Johnson, who is a 2012 MAC Champion, joins Walters in the 30-win club with a record of 30-8.
Here is what Ohio’s lineup will look like for the MAC championships:
125: KeVon Powell (5-12)
133: Joe Munos (6-11)
141: Kagan Squire (15-15)
149: Andrew Romanchik (14-10)
157: Spartak Chino (20-11)
165: Harrison Hightower (22-14)
174: Cody Walters (32-2)
184: Michael Duckworth (12-7) or Ryan Garringer (13-13)
197: Phil Wellington (21-12)
285: Jeremy Johnson (30-8)
With six freshmen in the lineup Ohio has six first-timers competing in the tournament.
“I’ve never experienced it before so I’m excited for that,” Walters said.
Though conference championship titles and trip to the national tournament are on the line, Ohio’s young group of grapplers has high expectations, and it is not intimidated by the new challenge.
“(I plan) to go in there and give it everything I got and hopefully hit the podium and get sent to the (NCAA) Tournament,” Joe Munos said. “Coming in as a true freshman, no one is expecting you to do much, so I’m just going to go out there, give it all I have and see what happens.”
“I’m going in there thinking I’m going to win it,” Walters said. “I’ve always expected myself to win it this year. I’ve never had any doubts.”
Walters noted that he is not at all intimidated by the tournament, mostly because he has wrestled since the age of six and competed in state and national tournaments. Additionally, he is aided by the fact that he had the luxury to train with Nick Purdue, Ohio’s starting 174-pounder in 2012, who was a MAC Champion last year.
Ohio’s current 174-pounder might also find it helpful that during his redshirt season last year, he was able to attend the MAC Championships, which Ohio hosted. It was then that he and fellow redshirt freshmen Phil Wellington and Spartak Chino got to see how the tournament works. Now they know what to expect.
When the NCAA announced qualifier allocations last week, Ohio wrestlers had even more to expect. They found out how many national qualifying spots their respective weight classes will earn. In total, MAC wrestlers will earn 30 spots in the Division I tournament.
Here are how many spots each weight class will earn:
Reacting to the two qualifying spots allocated to 165-pounders, Hightower said, “It’s obviously not quite what I was expecting but I’ve just go to face some diversity and go after it.”
Hightower was not able to qualify to the NCAA tournament last year, and it seems that this year his path will not be any easier, but he has chosen to think positively about his circumstances.
“I think it gives me some motivation, to remember the feeling (last year) and try to go after it this year,” he said.
Sophomore Andrew Romanchik finds himself in a position just like Hightower, with just two qualifying spots at 149 lbs.
But even Romanchik and Hightower’s respective weight classes were more fortunate in allocations than 141 lbs.
For Kagan Squire, his only ticket to the NCAA Tournament is winning his weight class.
Walters finds himself in a completely different situation than Squire. At 174 lbs., his weight class will earn five spots to the national tournament in Des Moines, Iowa.
Though five spots are up for grabs, Walters still has quite a challenge ahead of him. At No. 17, the redshirt freshman is one of four Top-25 ranked wrestlers the MAC.
2012 MAC Champion Jeremy Johnson is no stranger to the challenges that wrestlers face in the conference championship. This year will be Johnson’s third trip to the championships, and in the past two years he has successfully qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Hightower noted that a lot of the younger wrestlers go to Johnson for advice because of his experience.
“He knows what it takes and what you’ve got to do to qualify,” he said.
According to Johnson, a usual piece of advice he gives is, “Anything can happen, stay tuned in on your game plan and get ready to wrestle.”
Anything can happen is something that Johnson stresses.
Once a wrestler is competing in the conference tournament, what happened in the past does not matter. At that point all that matters is a spot in the national tournament, and the possibility of being a MAC Champion. An early loss can be a sour end to a spectacular regular season. On the same token, a deep run at the tournament can erase a disappointing regular season.
To emphasize the many possibilities, Johnson reiterated.
“You never know what’s going to happen at the MAC tournament.”