Updated Sun, Mar 9, 2014 10:52 pm
With four wrestlers in the championship finals and four more wrestlers alive for a berth to the 2014 NCAA Championships, the Bobcats assured five spots in the national tournament at Oklahoma City.
Cody Walters, 174, and Jeremy Johnson, 285, highlighted the day for the Bobcats, as they were crowned Mid-American Conference champions.
Walters defended his 2013 MAC title in a thrilling 4-2 decision over Old Dominion’s Billy Curling. Walters looked dominant as he compiled more than three minutes of riding time. The last time the two wrestled, Curling got the best of Walters and Ohio’s 174-pounder was put out of competition until the MAC Championships with a knee injury.
“It’s very nice to go in there knowing that some guy beat you before and you went and beat him, especially for something big,” Walters said. “I don’t care; he can have the dual meet win and I can have the MAC title any day.”
When the whistle sounded, Walter’s raised two fingers in the air, signifying his 174-pound title defense and second trip to nationals in as many years.
It was business as usual for Ohio heavyweight Jeremy Johnson. The redshirt senior won his 15th straight match and kept an undefeated record in MAC competition on his way to his second career conference title. He defeated Missouri’s Devin Mellon in a 7-1 decision.
“I thought I wrestled really well,” Johnson said. “I wrestled in my best positions and I really stuck to my game plan. It feels great to come out on top for my second title and I think this is going to be great momentum going into the national tournament.”
That momentum has Johnson believing he is wrestling the best he ever has. That is good news as Ohio’s big-man will make his fourth and final trip to the NCAA tournament.
Phil Wellington, 197, was unable join his teammates on top of the podium after he lost to Missouri’s freshman sensation J’Den Cox. Wellington had handed Cox his first loss of his college career in a dual meet in November, but the true frosh got his revenge in a 10-1 major decision. Wellington, dejected, was slow to get off the mat after the defeat.
With only two 197 NCAA berths awarded at the conference tournament, Wellington had to wrestle Shawn Scott of Northern Illinois for the final spot. He dispatched Scott in a 5-2 decision for the berth.
Harrison Hightower, 165, was the fourth and final Bobcat in a championship bout. He fell to Cooper Moore of Northern Iowa in an 11-5 decision. Down 2-1 in the second period, the match appeared to be over with Hightower grabbing his 15th pin of the year. Instead, Hightower earned just three points for a near fall. A shot from video captured by Flowrestling shows possible the pin-that-wasn’t:
Both Wellington and Hightower earned All-MAC honorable mention along with their national qualifications.
Sparty Chino, 157, claimed the Bobcats’ fifth spot in the national tournament. After dropping a match in the consolation finals he wrestled back to down Eastern Michigan’s Brandon Zeerip and claim fifth place.
The consolation semifinals proved unkind to the Bobcats' as they went 1-3 in the round. Tywan Claxton, 149, grabbed the lone win and looked to be in good shape to assure a berth to Oklahoma City. He won a 7-1 decision over Scott Mattingly of Central Michigan to guarantee a fourth place finish. The Bobcats’ 149-pounder then dropped his third place match, which placed him in a qualifying match with the Huskies’ Rob Jillard. Jillard won, leaving Claxton without an automatic bid. In a show of respect, a disappointed Claxton ceded his fourth place spot on the podium to Jillard.
KeVon Powell, 125, wrestled back from his loss in to consolation semis to claim fifth place, but fell just short of qualifying.
Ryan Garringer, 184, went winless on the day and finished sixth.
Despite some disappointing losses, head coach Joel Greenlee was satisfied with his squad’s performance.
“Overall I thought it was a pretty good weekend,” he said. “There are a couple of matches that I would like to have back over the two days, but for the most part I thought we came and did what we were supposed to do and wrestled to our seeds.”
Ohio finished fourth as a team with 94.5 points. It finished behind the Missouri Tigers, who claimed first for the second time in as many years in the MAC. Northern Iowa and Old Dominon – new additions to the conference for the 2013-14 season – took second and third, respectively.
“I think the great thing for us is: If you look at the old MAC, then we won the old MAC,” Greenlee said.
With five wrestlers punching their tickets to Oklahoma City, Ohio tied its record set last year. The Bobcats’ have a chance to break that record when the 40 at-large bids are announced later in the week. Claxton has a good chance of grabbing one of those bids and becoming the record-breaker. True freshman Noah Forrider, 141, who entered the conference tournament ranked but went winless, has an outside shot at earning a bid as well.
Before the tournament Greenlee said his goal was to qualify five wrestlers.
Mission accomplished – with a possible bonus to come.