Updated Tue, Mar 19, 2013 6:56 pm
Just days before the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships begins on Thursday, Ohio wrestling is making its final preparations before it sends off five Bobcats to Des Moines, Iowa.
Leading the group into Iowa will be All-American heavyweight Jeremy Johnson. He will be his third straight trip to the national tournament. Cody Walters, the Mid-American Conference’s 174-pound champ will join Johnson, as will Phil Wellington (197 lbs.), Sparty Chino (157 lbs.) and KeVon Powell (125 lbs.).
Between the end of the MAC Championships and the upcoming tournament, Johnson says that the five are all focusing on their best positions.
“It’s a fine line you walk,” Ohio head coach Joel Greenlee said. “You don’t want to work too hard, but not work hard enough. Obviously our number one goal is to stay healthy.”
“We’re recovering our bodies, getting our minds ready and it’s exciting,” Chino said. “We’re working hard and we’re excited to be wrestling on the big stage.”
This group is considerably young for such a stage. Besides Johnson, who is a junior, all of the Bobcats’ NCAA Tournament wrestlers are freshmen. Powell sticks out as a true freshman. His fellow freshman teammates were redshirted last season.
Already competing in his third national tournament, Johnson knows what it is all about, and he believes that gives him an advantage over wrestlers with less experience. He noted that knowing how to handle the large crowd as well as the down time in between matches is important to a wrestler’s success.
“Take it one match at a time,” Johnson said. “(You) can’t look ahead, especially at nationals … stay in your best position, and don’t worry about what other people are doing.”
Known for the confidence he exudes, Walters is certainly not worried about what lies ahead of him.
“I’ve been through stuff like this before,” Walters said. “I know what to expect. It’s just another tournament (and) my expectations are going at All-American first and foremost. I hate to lose so if I can continue that path I will be a national champion.”
Along with Johnson and Powell, Walters earned his berth in the national tournament at the MAC Championships in Buffalo, N.Y. Chino and Wellington, however, left New York unsure if they were going to wrestle again this season.
“I thought my season was over and it was pretty devastating because I had a really good year, and I just kind of felt like it was all wasted,” Chino said.
Fortunately for the two, they could still get into nationals by receiving at-large bids, and that is exactly what happened.
Wellington said that he did a lot of research to see whom he would be competing with for an at-large bid.
“I saw my name up there but I was still a little nervous because there were more names up there than actual spots,” he said.
When the two finally found out that they would be joining their other three teammates in Iowa, they were, naturally, elated.
“It was probably one of the happiest moments of my life, honestly,” Chino said. “I’ve won a state title. I’ve had a lot of great achievements wrestling, but the amount of stress that I was under those last three days, up until Wednesday at 3, I was so stressed beyond belief, and when I got it, it was the happiest moment.”
Though post-MAC Championship bids were pleasant surprises for both Chino and Wellington, perhaps most surprising of all the berths that were earned by the Bobcats was Powell’s.
Powell started his wrestling career at Ohio expecting to be redshirted. He notes however that Coach Greenlee had different plans for him.
Going into the championships, the 125-pounder had a 5-12 record. Throughout the season however, the true freshman said he never gave up.
“If you look at my losses it looks like a lot but they are all (to) top notch guys. I’ve been battling every day, getting better,” he said. “People overlooked me from the beginning … overlooked me as a seven seed. Some people might have thought I was going to go 0-2 in the tournament and I proved them wrong.”
Powell actually went 3-1 at the Championships, which earned him a third place finish.
“He’s wrestling better right now than he ever has and I expect him to keep it going in the national tournament and keep beating guys who he is not supposed to beat,” Greenlee said.
Powell plans to do just that. He knows that he will be an underdog throughout nationals, but he said that with nothing to lose, he can just wrestle and have fun. As happy as the 125-pounder is with where he is now, Powell realizes the implications that his accomplishments will have for his future.
“This basically sets up my whole future,” Powell said about being a freshman and competing in Des Moines. “Next year going into this, I’ll have a lot more confidence and have a positive mindset about me being one of the top guys in the MAC.”
It is a dream come true for Powell, as well as his fellow freshman. Wellington notes that it is a surreal feeling to be wrestling at the NCAA Tournament as a freshman. According to Walters, wrestling in the national tournament was what he first dreamt of when he realized he wanted to wrestle in college.
“(The NCAA Tournament) is the pinnacle of wrestling … It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid, to wrestle at the national tournament, now I can,” Chino said. “But I’m not satisfied. Now I’m here, I’m at this level so I’ll take what’s mine.”
Ultimately, Coach Greenlee expects his wrestlers not to change their expectations from what they were in the regular season.
What are those expectations, exactly?
“To compete and wrestle hard and do everything they can do to be All-Americans and national champions."
All five Bobcats will wrestle Thursday morning. Powell (8-13) begins against Penn State No. 4 seed Nicholas Megaludis (24-3), Chino (20-13) wrestles Harvard No. 11 seed Walter Peppelman, Walters (35-2) takes on Purdue's Chad Welch (21-13), Wellington (23-14) grapples with Harvard's James Fox (13-4) and Johnson (32-9) wrestles Penn State's James Lawson (21-7).