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Ohio University redshirt junior Andrew Romanchik grapples withUniversity of Northern Iowa junior Cody Caldwell. The Bobcats defeated the Panthers 20-18 at the Convocation Center in Athens, Ohio, on Friday, February 6, 2015. 

Six Bobcats headed to NCAA Championships

Six Bobcats will begin competition at the NCAA Championships on Thursday in St. Louis.

Even with the weight of the NCAA Championships bearing upon his shoulders, coach Joel Greenlee still found the time to joke around with his wrestlers.

“I’m a light 300-pounds,” Greenlee said when one of his wrestlers asked what weight class he would be in for Thursday’s national tournament.

His mind has been at ease for the past few days. Practices have been less than an hour, and he’s taken comfort in knowing that his Bobcats wrestled their best at the Mid-American Conference Championships.

But, when the calendar turns to Thursday and Ohio brings six national qualifiers to the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis, he and the Bobcats will be ready.

Ohio has five automatic qualifiers who earned a bid at the MAC Championships, including 174-pound redshirt junior No. 9 Cody Walters, 149-pound redshirt junior No. 11 Tywan Claxton, 197-pound redshirt junior No. 14 Phil Wellington, 165-pound redshirt senior No. 16 Harrison Hightower and 157-pound redshirt junior Spartak Chino.

Andrew Romanchik, a 184-pound redshirt junior, was chosen by the selection committee to join the field as an at-large bid.

Wellington will enter the tournament with a near-perfect record in conference play. His lone loss came against J’Den Cox of Missouri, who beat him in the 197-pound championship match of the conference tournament.

“It really didn’t matter so much about where I placed,” Wellington said. “I just mainly wanted to focus on wrestling as hard as I could for as long as I could. I knew that was going to take me places. I’m not worried about winning a conference championship. I’m more so worried about becoming an All-American this week.”

He will have the opportunity to face Cox in the NCAA Championships, given they both advance to the 197-pound title match. Wellington said he has thought about the fact that he could possibly avenge his loss to Cox, and he’ll be ready to go “toe-to-toe” against him to earn become an NCAA champion.

Wellington will open against Eastern Michigan’s Anthony Abro, a wrestler he’s faced previously this year.

Walters’ scenario is somewhat different. Coming off his third consecutive Mid-American Conference title, he’ll be wrestling Cornell’s George Pickett, a wrestler he’s never personally faced before, but an Ohio teammate has.

“(Spartak Chino) wrestled him a few years ago, so I’ve heard of him, and heard how that match went,” Walters said. “Through Flowrestling and YouTube I’ve been able to find quite a bit on him, and I’m a student of the sport, so I’ll look for anything I can on someone. I’ve been picking him apart for about a week now.”

Wellington and Walters are in the majority of the Ohio wrestlers, as four of the six are making a return to nationals.

Greenlee said though he believes that experience helps in the long run, it’s not much different from wrestling a dual meet at The Convo.

The only difference, Greenlee said, is the sheer amount of people watching you.

“It’s not going to be a hell of a lot different at a dual meet at The Convo than it is at the NCAA Tournament,” Greenlee said. “But, all of a sudden you’re at the NCAA Tournament and you’re in front of 20,000 people. You’re not with 20,000 people in The Convo.

Two Ohio wrestlers are in the most unique situation of all. Hightower and Claxton will wrestle for the last time in their collegiate careers.

Though Greenlee said their last moments on the wrestling mat will mean a lot to the two, he thinks all of his wrestlers are in the same boat.

“It could be the last tournament for Chino, it could be the last tournament for Walters,” Greenlee said. “You never know what’s going to happen. You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring.

“I think every one of our guys needs to go in and wrestle the first match like it’s going to be their last. They better make the most out of this opportunity because you don’t know if you’ll go again.”

As the NCAA Championships kick into gear, the time for Greenlee and the Bobcats to relax is over.

With all the work he has to do during the week, having to motivate his six wrestlers is not on his to-do list.

They can do so themselves.

“I hope we don’t have to motivate them,” Greenlee said. “If we do, we’re in trouble.”


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