For one of the only times in his life, Hunter Stieber entered a wrestling tournament not really knowing what to expect.
After redshirting last season as a member of the Ohio State University wrestling team, Stieber, a 2011 Monroeville graduate, took part in his first-ever international tournament.
Wrestling at 154 pounds (70kg) for the United States wrestling team last Thursday at the Pan American championships in Mexico City, Stieber did what he’s pretty much done his entire life: Won a gold medal after blasting three opponents.
Stieber opened with a 10-0 technical fall win over Tasso Rocha of Brazil in the quarterfinals. He then topped Ecuador’s Yoan Blanco in the semifinals, 9-2.
Facing Puerto Rico’s Pedro Soto in the gold medal match, Stieber scored a takedown in each period to post a 4-1 victory.
“It felt pretty good, being my first international tournament, I wasn’t sure who all would be there,” Stieber said. “I faced some decent competition, but it was a little different than college wrestling. There were different styles, and some countries wrestle differently from how Americans wrestle. So I was able to wrestle more relaxed.”
Stieber said he didn’t set any real goal for the tournament, but knows one of the plusses besides a gold medal is the freestyle-exclusive brand of wrestling he experienced.
“It was really cool wrestling internationally, it was different,” he said. “I’m always happy to win, no one wants to lose, but I didn’t have any super goals. Right now my goal is working on a national title, and go from there.
“With freestyle wrestling, there is just a lot of work on your feet and the neutral position,” Stieber added. “It gets you better and more smoother in takedowns, and makes you clean things up. Freestyle helps a lot with the college style of wrestling in that sense.”
Stieber was a two-time All-American at Ohio State in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, finishing sixth and third at the NCAA championships, respectively.
But in a strategic move for a highly-anticipated 2014-15 season, Stieber redshirted last season.
“It was kind of a boring year. I did a few open tournaments, but nothing can match Big Tens and NCAAs,” Stieber said. “This was definitely fun, it was good to be back in action, and I had a lot of really good teammates, like Jordan (Burroughs).”
Jordan Burroughs is regarded by many as the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the world. The Olympic gold medalist and two-time World champion is 88-1 in his team USA career, and is unbeaten against foreign competition in his illustrious international career.
Stieber and Burroughs were two of five Americans who earned titles on Thursday.
The U.S. rolled to the team title with 74 points. Canada was second with 50 points and Cuba third with 49 points. American wrestlers went a perfect 8-0 in the medal round.
“It was really cool to hang out with Jordan, he was also my roommate,” Stieber said of Burroughs. “Besides just being a good guy, he definitely makes you want to be a better wrestler just by being around him.”
At 64-8 overall in two seasons for the Buckeyes, Stieber moves up to 149 pounds this coming year. He was 141 when he last wrestled in the 2012-13 season, and will be joining a weight class that is expected to return Northwestern’s Jason Tsirtsis, who won the national title at 149 as a freshman last season.
Elder brother Logan Stieber returns at 141 as a redshirt senior for Ohio State, looking to become the fourth wrestler in the 87-year history of the NCAAs to win four titles. Along with the Stieber brothers, who were both four-time Ohio high school state champions, they will be joined by two more four-time Ohio state champs: redshirt freshmen Bo Jordan (St. Paris Graham) and Nathan Tomasello (Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy).
But it doesn’t end there for a loaded OSU lineup. Johnni DiJulius, Mark Martin, Kenny Courts and Nick Tavenello are all returning NCAA qualifiers. A fifth four-time Ohio state champ also enters the fold, as Bo Jordan’s youngest brother Micah also signed on with the Buckeyes.
Another freshman, the No. 1 recruit in the country from Maryland, Kyle Snyder, went 179-0 in Maryland, then bypassed his senior year of high school in favor of training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Needless to say, expectations have never been higher at Ohio State, which has twice finished runner-up under current coach Tom Ryan (2008-09), but does not have a national title as of yet.
“I think we’re going to have a good year, obviously there are a lot of good guys coming in, and a lot of good guys coming back,” Stieber said. “I don’t want to come out and say we’ll win it all, but we’re going to be a very good team. Everyone wants it. We’ve got a good team with the same goals, so we’ll see how it goes.”
On top of the expectations, the Buckeyes’ home schedule this coming season includes four-time defending NCAA team champion Penn State (Jan. 11, 2015), runner-up Minnesota (Feb. 8, 2015), No. 4 finisher Iowa (Jan. 4, 2015) and the Big Ten championships (March 7-8, 2015).
But no ‘home’ match is anticipated more by Stieber than on Jan. 23, 2015. The Buckeyes will host Indiana in a Big Ten dual, but it will be wrestled at Norwalk High School in an effort to showcase the Stieber brothers in front of their hometown friends and family.
Monroeville is hosting the event at NHS to accommodate the number of fans anticipated to attend.
“I’m very, very excited for that one already,” Stieber said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. There are people wanting tickets already, and my family will have a ton of people there, so it should be a great time. A lot of people are excited about it, and so are we. Hopefully we get a good crowd and perform well back home.”