BIG TEN FEATURE Illinois Ott ready to contend for national title
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Heartbreaking would be one way to describe Kyle Ott's collegiate wrestling career.
Then again, most guys never even come close to accomplishing what the Illinois senior has on the wrestling mat.
A runner-up at 125 pounds in the last two NCAA Championships, Ott is determined to climb that one final step on the championship podium at nationals this season.
The fourth-seeded Ott took another big step in that direction Saturday night, winning a rematch of last year's NCAA finals with a gritty 5-4 double-overtime win over national champ and top-ranked Joe Dubuque of Indiana in the Big Ten semifinals.
"This gives me a great boost, beating a guy of his caliber," Ott said. "Finishing second at nationals a couple times, that's a huge motivator for me. I will never be satisfied until I'm on top. That's what pushes me, that's what drives me. I want to be NCAA champ."
Ott's victory snapped Dubuque's 28-match winning streak in front of the Indiana senior's home fans at Assembly Hall.
Listed as having had 11 knee surgeries - although he disputes that number and says he's actually had a few more - Ott competed in only one match before Christmas. He's now 11-3 entering Sunday afternoon's finals match with Michigan State's Nick Simmons, who beat Ott in last year's league finals.
"I'm healthy now," Ott said. "I feel real good. My knee still bothers me a little bit, but it's something I've learned to live with."
Simmons pulled out a thriller of his own, using a takedown in the closing seconds to send his semifinal with Northwestern's John Velez into overtime. Simmons then caught Velez with a spladle in the first 30-second period to prevail 6-3.
Ott, who also fell to Dubuque 4-0 in a dual this year, is 3-2 in his career against the IU wrestler. Ott, from Huber Heights, Ohio, beat him twice two years ago.
"It doesn't really matter what you do during the regular season," Ott said. "The two most important meets are this one and the NCAAs, and I'm well aware of that. I know you have to peak and be at your absolute best at this time of year. I feel like I'm wrestling with a lot of confidence again."
Illinois teammate Alex Tirapelle, the top seed at 157, said he's impressed with Ott.
"Kyle's been hungry since the day he stepped in our room," Tirapelle said. "He works extremely hard, he's fought through a ton of injuries and he has a lot of heart. He just keeps coming and keeps going after guys. I think he can win a national title this year."
In Saturday's match, Ott trailed 1-0 after two periods before choosing neutral to start the third. He then barreled in on a textbook single-shot near the edge of the mat, finishing by switching to a double to take a 2-1 lead with 1:38 left. Dubuque then escaped to tie it and send it into overtime.
After no score in the one-minute overtime period, Ott backed into Dubuque and scooted behind for a reversal in the first 30 second-tiebreaker. Dubuque then escaped to trail 4-3 entering the second 30-second period.
Ott then scored what turned out to be the eventual match-winning points when Dubuque was called for a caution after jumping the gun from the down position. Dubuque escaped and tried valiantly to score the winning takedown, but Ott held him off.
"He's very tough, very physical," Ott said. "This is great preparation for nationals. You can't beat it. I've never won Big Tens, so that would be a nice accomplishment and would give me more momentum going into nationals."