Updated Mon, Oct 28, 2013 1:31 pm
The Ohio wrestling team returns five NCAA qualifiers this season and is picked to win the Mid-American Conference by the MAC league office.
Ohio also has three wrestlers predicted to win their respective weight classes: senior Jeremy Johnson (heavyweight), sophomore Cody Walters (174), and sophomore Phil Wellington (197). Junior Harrison Hightower (165), sophomore Spartak Chino (157) and sophomore KeVon Powell (125) were all predicted to land in the top three of their individual rankings as well.
“I think it makes a lot of guys more motivated,” said head coach Joel Greenlee. “They want to work hard, they want to do work outs in the summer, they want to lift, they want to run, all those things.”
Greenlee wasn’t particularly surprised about the MAC preseason rankings, but he is eager about what this means for Ohio Wrestling.
“[The league office is] going to pick teams that have good guys coming back because they don’t rank redshirts and they don’t rank incoming guys,” said Greenlee. “It means we have the best team coming back that everybody knows about.”
Greenlee said the preseason accolades serve as motivation for his wrestlers.
“There is a buzz in the air [from] people talking about Ohio Wrestling and all that’s fun,” he said. “It’s exciting and it makes what you do in here worthwhile.”
Johnson specifically is going to be crucial to Ohio’s success with his on-the-mat performance and off-the-mat influence. He is the lone senior given a preseason nod and is trying for his fourth NCAA tournament appearance in four years.
“He’s made an amazing transition, I think. When he came in here as an incoming freshman he was a pretty shy guy, didn’t talk a whole heck of a lot or anything like that and now he’s a leader in everything he does, “ said Greenlee. “He leads by example, working hard, tries to motivate the younger guys and all that stuff. He is a great guy to have on your team.”
Johnson is one of only three seniors left on Ohio’s roster and one of seven total upperclassmen, so his experience will undoubtedly be something for which younger athletes look.
“You know a lot of people talk about leading or being a leader, but I think everyone in here is a leader at some point,” said Johnson. “I’m just the oldest guy by seniority. I look for support from these guys when I am feeling down and they look to me, but you know I just help these younger guys with experience, that’s what they expect.”
Johnson was one spot short of receiving back-to-back All-American honors last season and finished 35-11. This season, he is not looking back and has one goal for his senior year.
“I hope to be a national champ this year,” said Johnson. “The whole tournament is going to be tough, but I’m already preparing for my biggest challenge to be [in] that national final.”
The Bobcats have focused their preseason on heavy conditioning in order to start their regular season strong. The talk of Ohio Wrestling has been crucial to encouraging the team to meet expectations.
“Preseason has been great. We have a lot of guys. You know our culture has changed so much here at OU that we have guys coming in all months of the year,” said Johnson. “It’s with us being ranked No. 1, it just gives our guys so much confidence. We saw that there’s just a different spark in our enthusiasm.”
Ohio’s results from the MAC tournament last season did not live up to expectations. The Bobcats tied for fifth place with Northern Illinois with 63.5 points, almost 20 points behind fourth place Kent State. Their postseason results left Ohio with mixed emotions.
“I thought we did alright at the MAC tournament. I would have liked to have done a little better … but I felt good about all our guys that went to nationals winning matches,” said Greenlee. “Overall, I felt happy. This was something for us to build on and something for us to get better.”
Walters and Johnson were the most successful Bobcats in the NCAA tournament and powered the team to their ranking of 29th overall. Greenlee expects Powell, Hightower and sophomore Kagan Squire (141) to join Walters and Johnson as dominant regular season forces.
“We didn’t have guys that had a bad season last year … but those are probably the guys that I expect to have a breakout year and qualify for nationals and that would make it a great year,” said Greenlee.
The Bobcats open up the season with their Green vs. White match on Nov. 3. Their first regular season matches will be at the Michigan State Open on Nov. 9 in East Lansing, Mich.