Updated Thu, Jan 16, 2014 11:09 pm
When Ohio wrestling took on Central Michigan a year ago, five freshmen, four other underclassmen and just one upperclassman made up the Bobcats’ starting lineup. The Chippewas were ranked 12th in the nation, carried three ranked wrestlers and were winners of the last 11 Mid-American Conference Championships. Conversely, the Bobcats were an unseasoned team searching for an identity.
Ohio lost, 23-12.
Later in the 2012-13 campaign, Central Michigan would be unseated as conference champs by Missouri, and four of those Bobcat freshmen would go on to join Ohio heavyweight Jeremy Johnson in qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
What a difference a year can make.
The ‘Cats have a critical weekend of wrestling ahead. At 5-1 with a 1-1 conference record, Ohio will kick it off with a trip to Mount Pleasant, Mich., to take on the Chippewas (6-4, 2-1) on Friday night.
This go-round, a much more experienced Ohio squad will send four ranked wrestlers to the mat. The Bobcats are coming off of a dominant win over Northern Illinois, meanwhile, the Chippewas are currently unranked and looking to bounce back from a loss to No. 10 Northern Iowa.
Though down by its own standards, Central Michigan still remains a dangerous team. All four of its losses have come against ranked opponents. It lost three NCAA-qualifiers to graduation but still returns three more in Luke Smith, Mike Ottinger and Craig Kelliher. A No. 24 national ranking remains the Chippewas’ highest watermark of the season, and they, too, will march out four ranked grapplers in their dual against the Bobcats.
The MAC’s most recent coaches' poll has The Green and White ranked third in the conference with 17.0 points and Central Michigan is right on Ohio’s heels with a fourth place ranking and 13.0 points.
The dual in Mount Pleasant will likely feature just one matchup of ranked wrestlers. No. 7 Cody Walters, 174 pounds, will wrestle No. 10 Ottinger of Central Michigan. Walters, Ohio’s 2013 All-American, is 3-0 this season and is looking to gain some momentum after recently returning from a two-month hiatus in which he was out with a concussion. Walters and Ottinger are the No. 1 and No. 2 174-pounders, respectively, in the MAC coaches’ rankings.
Last year a 20th ranked Ottinger wrestled at 165 pounds against the Bobcats and he was defeated by Harrison Hightower. This year, Hightower is seemingly just on the outside of earning a top-20 ranking with a 21-7 record. He adds nine pins to his resume which ranks third in the NCAA’s Division I. Hightower will likely take on Nick Becker. Hightower and Becker are ranked as the MAC’s third and fourth best 165-pounders, respectively.
Central Michigan features another wrestler that has jumped up a weight class from last year in Kelliher. Last season he lost to Walters at 174, but this year at 184 he will be pitted against Ryan Garringer.
The 157 bout will setup a meeting of 2013 NCAA-qualifiers in Sparty Chino, with an 11-5 record, and No. 20 Smith.
The remaining likely matchups include:
125: KeVon Powell (6-8) vs. No. 12 Cory Keener
133: Kagan Squire (7-4) vs. No. 16 Joe Roth
141: Noah Forrider (17-10) vs. Tyler Keselring
149: No. 15 Tywan Claxton (15-4) vs. Scott Mattingly
197: No 13. Phil Wellington (20-2) vs. Jackson Lewis
HWT: No. 11 Jeremy Johnson (22-3) vs. Adam Robinson
Assuming each ranked wrestler is considered a favorite in his respective match, the dual could likely hinge on the results from the 141, 165, 174 and 184 matches.
Ohio will square off with Central Michigan in the Rose Arena. The dual is set to begin at 7 p.m. A victory would serve the Bobcats well in improving team perception and providing a quality win to build upon.