Oct. 26, 1999
Columbus, Ohio – Ohio State head coach Russ Hellickson has been a college wrestling coach for 17 years. He has coached All-Americans, National Champions and Olympic medallists. He was an accomplished wrestler in college and the Olympics, winning a silver medal in the 1976 Montreal Games. He has seen it all. Which is why when Hellickson makes bold statements, it is wise to take note of them. It is also why, when asked about this year’s Buckeye squad, the nation should pay attention to his remarks.
“We can be a Top 25 or Top 20 team in the nation,” Hellickson said. “Our dual meet record will be better (than last season) and our final placing and number of All-Americans at the national tournament will be higher.”
WINNERS COMING BACK
Leading the charge for the returning wrestlers is 1999 All-American Robert Sessley. The junior from Columbus, Ohio, put together one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in Ohio State wrestling history last year, winning 35 matches after only one victory the year prior. He jumped on the scene in early December, taking fourth place at the rigorous Las Vegas Invitational and never slowed down, eventually finishing eighth at the NCAAs.
“Towards the end of last year he realized he’s capable of scoring on almost anybody,” Hellickson said. “He wanted to be an All-American and he made it. As a sophomore that’s a heck of an accomplishment. Now he’s in a different position where the expectation is not to be an All-American, but to be a contender for a national championship.”
Seniors Brian Roskovich and Peter Rogers also return to give the Buckeyes meat in the middle of the lineup. Roskovich, who wrestled at 157 a year ago, won 21 matches and represented OSU at the Big Ten Championships. Rogers, at 165, went 27-12 and was one of the more consistent performers – winning 12 matches in a row at one point – until a separated shoulder forced him to miss the final three weeks of the season. Both know what it’s like to compete in the Big Ten and should make Ohio State difficult to handle in the middle weights. “It’s important for Peter and Brian to be the senior leaders on this team, to come back and have the spectacular years they’ve always wanted to have and expected to have as wrestlers,” Hellickson said.
One of the more positive stories to come out of last year was Nick Preston. Entering his sophomore year, Preston comes off a year in which he qualified for the NCAAs and won 21 matches, a tally that led all freshmen. Preston’s improvement over the course of last year was visible to all Buckeye fans and his sky-is-the-limit potential in addition to his work ethic should make him nasty to wrestle against in one of the heavier weight classes.
“Last year Nick was right on the verge of being an All-American as a freshman,” Hellickson said. “He is a talented kid with a lot of explosive power.”
The good news doesn’t stop there. Keaton Anderson, who came out of the blocks on fire before sitting out the second half of the season with knee injuries, is healthy and ready to continue what looks to be a very promising career. Granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, Anderson was 13-2 (4-0 duals) last year and wrestled with the aggressiveness and poise that was expected of him coming out of high school. The three-time Ohio state champion should combine with Sessley to form a formidable one-two punch in the lower-half of the Buckeye lineup.
SOLID IN THE MIDDLE
Two Buckeyes that put up impressive efforts last year, junior Bo James and sophomore Joel Walker, make Ohio State a tough out in the 165 and 174-pound weight classes. James, who was 18-12 last year at 174, will look to continue the improvement he has shown over the past two years. An eighth-place finisher at Big Ten’s a year ago, James is coming off his first full season in the lineup, one which saw him win 16 of his first 18 matches and take first place at the Carolina Open. Walker came on at the end of last season to display the ability that should make him a force this year and in years to come. He went 15-11 his freshman season, including impressive victories in his last two matches over Matt Koyl of Michigan State and Jason Rawls of Michigan. He also pinned 1996 All-American Mike Powell in the OSU-Indiana dual match last year.
But it is more than just returning stars that have Hellickson smiling. A recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the nation by Amateur Wrestling News and tabbed as fourth-best in the nation by InterMat should make the Buckeyes a force in the Big Ten this year and in the future.
“This is truly the best recruiting class in Ohio State wrestling history,” Hellickson said. “To have the level of wrestlers we have coming in this year is fabulous.”
Just how good is the level of wrestler to which Hellickson was referring? How about two-time Ohio State champion and 1999 high school national champion Tommy Rowlands for starters. Then throw in three-time Ohio state champion and 1999 high school national champion Jeff Ratliff. Add two-time Ohio state champion Jesse Leng and 1999 Ohio state champion Ryan Hieber, and the Buckeyes have a nucleus in place for a powerful future. And if that wasn’t enough, 1999 New York state champion John Clark, the younger brother of two-time Big Ten champion and 1998 National Champion Mitch Clark, is another member of the vaunted recruiting class.
IT’S NEVER EASY
The new recruits and the rest of the Buckeyes will, as always, have their hands full wrestling in the Big Ten, which has proven itself to be the nation’s toughest wrestling conference. Six of the Top 15 teams in the final NWCA Team Rankings were Big Ten teams, including three of the top six. A glance at the arduous schedule reveals a silver lining, however. While OSU takes on last year’s Big Ten champion and NCAA runner-up Minnesota and perennial powers Illinois, Penn State and Michigan, they will do so in the confines of their own facility, historic St. John Arena.
“I’ve tried to set up a schedule that gives the great wrestler a chance to wrestle as many other great wrestlers as possible so there are no surprises when he gets to the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments,” Hellickson said.
The Buckeyes will have their share of tests on the road, however. Showdowns with Northern Iowa and Iowa State dot the November schedule. And while Ohio State does face some of its toughest competition at home, it could be a four-meet road trip that makes the Buckeyes’ season. Starting January 28 and ending February 5, OSU will face Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana on the road.
“If we can have a good streak through there and have improved at that point and are ready to battle intensely at that point in the season it will be very positive for our team,” Hellickson said.
It will be a tough road to travel, but Hellickson’s squad is on the way back to the top of the national rankings.