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Oct. 8, 2004

A large task looms over the 2004-05 rendition of the Ohio State wrestling team. That task? To carry the momentum from the Buckeyes’ dramatic run put together at the 2004 NCAA Championships as five wrestlers claimed All-America honors in leading Ohio State to a tie for third place. What makes that task all the more difficult is four of those five All-American wrestlers had concluded their collegiate careers after walking proudly in the Parade of All-Americans inside the Savvis Center in St. Louis.

This season, the NCAA championships again will be held at the Savvis Center and a mix of young veterans and first-year wrestlers will shoulder the responsibility of getting OSU back to the national podium.

Russ Hellickson, who enters his 19th season as head coach of the wrestling Buckeyes, is excited to see what the highly-rated recruit classes of 2003 and ’04 can do.

“There will be more talent in this training room than I will have ever seen in my nearly 20 years at Ohio State,” Hellickson, whose 2004 recruit class was ranked as high as No. 3 in various wrestling publications, said. “At the conclusion of their careers, this class has potential to be better than the ’04 senior class that finished with eight All-Americans and two NCAA championships. I envision eight or nine potential multiple All-Americans from the last two classes. Those two groups each have the credentials to be a factor at the national tournament every year.

“This will be one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams I have ever coached. Growing pains will be part of the mix, but that is all part of learning and getting better. This first year will be interesting to see how we compete against some talented veteran squads in the Big Ten.”

Youthful Leadership
Of the five All-Americans from the 2004 NCAA Championships, just one returns for the ’04-05 campaign in J.D. Bergman at 197 pounds. After dropping his first-round match at NCAA’s, Bergman completed a furious four-match run through the consolation bracket and into the third-place match, where he used a 5-4 decision over Ryan Bader of Arizona State to gain third place in his initial trip to the NCAA championships. Bergman is rated No. 3 in the country at 197 by thewrestlingmall.com. With his success in 2004, Bergman will be looked upon as a leader on the young Buckeye squad.

“Whether he is ready for it or not, J.D. Bergman will have to assume a leadership role on this team,” Hellickson said. “He was an All-American last year. His track record speaks for itself. Our upperclassmen also have a great opportunity to assume a leadership role and lead drills in practice.”

To go along with his All-America honor, Bergman posted a 32-15 overall record and led the Buckeyes with 12 wins via fall.

Another veteran, Anthony Magistrelli, spent the majority of the season at 174 pounds and shared time with Alex Picazo. Both have reached double-digit wins in injury-shortened seasons in their careers and each will be looked upon to join Bergman as a leader. Magistrelli won a career-best 16 matches as a redshirt freshman in 2002-03, while Picazo recorded an 11-11 mark last season as a true freshman.

The Buckeyes also boast former starters at the lighter weights in 2003 starters Nathan Costello (125) and Rob Rosenfeld (125/133), who return to challenge for each position.

In the mid-weights, James King and Ryan Rhodes shared time at 157 pounds and both will be back in 2004-05. King is slated to redshirt this season, while Rhodes will compete for a starting bid after wrestling 17 matches in 2004. Rhodes also could vie for the 165 slot.

Schedule
The Buckeyes will trek through perhaps its most daunting schedule in recent seasons. Ohio State will face dual meets with eight of the Top 16 teams from the final standings at the 2004 NCAA Championships.

Iowa, which claimed runner-up behind Oklahoma State at the 2004 national tournament, will travel to Columbus Feb. 5 before the Buckeyes embark on a three-dual road swing at Michigan, Minnesota and Penn State to close out the season. All three programs placed in the Top 12 at the NCAA championships last season. Ohio State also faces challenges in the early portion of the schedule, beginning with a tri-meet at St. John Arena with Virginia Tech and Missouri, Dec. 18. The Tigers finished 13th at nationals last season.

“We choose to schedule top programs around the country to prepare our guys for the great wrestlers they will face at the end of the season,” Hellickson said.

The opening half of the 2004 schedule once again features the highest level of tournament action in the country. The Buckeyes open the season at the Oklahoma Gold Classic in Brockport, N.Y. Nov. 13, where they face several opponents in an open tournament. Highlighting the bill is Oklahoma, which placed ninth at NCAA’s last season. The Sooners serve as co-host with SUNY-Brockport.

Next on the schedule is the annual Michigan State Open (Nov. 20-21) followed by the Las Vegas Invitational (Dec. 3-4), which welcomes top-rated fields in all weight classes. After the first dual matches of the season at the All-Ohio Championships in Athens, Ohio Dec. 11, Ohio State will compete in the 43rd annual Midlands Tournament in Evanston, Ill., Dec. 28-29. Departed HWT Tommy Rowlands, the 2004 NCAA and Big Ten champion, wrestled his way to the Midlands title last season.

Dual action resumes Jan. 8 as Ohio State welcomes its largest field to the annual Buckeye Duals in St. John Arena. The 2004 edition features 14 teams that will have the opportunity to wrestle four duals on the day. Illinois, which finished seventh at the NCAA tournament last season, headlines the field of visiting teams, while fellow Big Ten foe Northwestern also will compete in the event. Cleveland State, Northern Illinois and Tennessee-Chattanooga, all of which spent time in the Top 25 last season, also help comprise the field.

The next weekend features a trip eastward to Pittsburgh (Jan. 14) and on to Cornell, which took 11th at the 2004 national meet, Jan. 16. The Buckeyes wrestled Cornell on two occasions in 2003, winning tight matches in Ithica, N.Y. and in the 2003 National Duals in Columbus. In 2004, Cornell edged the Buckeyes, 22-21, in the second round of the national duals.

The Big Ten season opens with trek No. 2 to East Lansing, Mich. to take on the Spartans in a dual Jan. 23 before the Buckeyes return to St. John for a four-meet home stand, beginning Jan. 28 against Purdue. A tri-meet with Big Ten rival Indiana and out-of-league opponent Virginia, which took 16th at the 2004 NCAA’s, is next on the docket, Jan. 30. The Buckeyes step out of St. John to open the February slate as they host Wisconsin at nearby Worthington-Kilbourne High School (Feb. 4) before heading back to campus for the Iowa dual the next day.

After the road swing at Michigan, Minnesota and Penn State to end the regular season, Ohio State will travel to Iowa City for the 2005 Big Ten Championships March 5-6. The Hawkeyes have won the event the last two seasons, with the 2004 title coming at St. John Arena.

“We have challenges in every part of the season,” Hellickson said. “It is tremendously important to have the advantage of wrestling the nation’s top teams when heading into the Big Ten and national tournaments. There are some monster meets at the end of a schedule, but our season should prepare us for that challenge and the challenge of the postseason tournaments.”

Buckeyes who qualify for the national tournament will have the opportunity to match or better the Ohio State performance of 2004. St. Louis will once again serve as the host of the NCAA meet, which is scheduled for March 17-19.

Additions to the Squad
The Ohio State wrestling team signed five recruits to join the squad in 2004, adding yet another stellar incoming freshmen class to the Russ Hellickson era. The Buckeyes, whose 2003-04 recruiting class ranked among the Top 5 in the country, inked a quintet of nationally ranked student-athletes to wrestle at Ohio State in the 2004-05 season. The group of Charlie Clark (Canton, N.Y./ Canton), Jeffrey “J” Jaggers (Bedford, Ohio/ St. Peter Chanel), Jason Johnstone (Massillon, Ohio/ Massillon Perry), Blake Maurer (Evansville, Ind./ Mater Dei) and Keegan Mueller (Dallas, Texas/ Highland Park) bring a collective resume that helped the Buckeyes earn a No. 3 ranking by Intermat for the 2004 recruit classes.

“This is a great group of student-athletes who are respected tremendously in the wrestling community,” Hellickson, who had three wrestlers from the 2003-04 recruiting class – Bergman, King and Picazo – spend time in the starting line up last season, said. “All five from the group are national caliber-type wrestlers who are ranked within the Top 6 in major wrestling publications. All possess the talent to become contributing factors on this team as soon as they decide to do so.”

Both W.I.N. Magazine and Amateur Wrestling News rate each of the five as high as No. 3 in their respective weight classes, while going no lower than No. 6 nationally.

“This group is a tremendous class for us and matches our class from last year,” Hellickson continued. “The last two recruiting classes provide Ohio State with balance throughout our team. That balance allows our student-athletes to compete with national caliber wrestlers and improve on a daily basis in our training room.”