Nathan Tomasello chases international success while balancing NCAA senior season

By Taylor Miller, USA Wrestling | Sept. 28, 2017, 1:22 p.m. (ET)

To say Nathan Tomasello is a wrestler on the rise might seem strange. However, the Ohio State senior’s successful summer on the international scene has given rise to a promising future in freestyle wrestling.

After a third-place finish at the 2017 NCAA Division I Championships in St. Louis, Mo., followed by a bronze medal win at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas, Nev., Tomasello set his sights on the U.S. World Team Trials, where a lethal field of contenders was in the running at 57 kg/125.5 lbs.

Upon arrival in Lincoln, Neb., Tomasello notched solid wins over top contenders Frank Perrelli and Alan Waters as the No. 3 seed to earn a spot in the challenge tournament finals against his longtime rival Thomas Gilman.

In a bout that came down to the final moments, Tomasello fell, 4-2, to Gilman in heart-wrenching fashion on a last second single conversion. Gilman went on to win the World Team spot and earned a silver medal at the World Championships in Paris, France.

Tomasello fought back to earn a spot on the 2017 U.S. National Team with a top-three finish at the Trials, an accomplishment that both disappointed him and drove him to become better.

“It was bittersweet,” Tomasello said. “I was happy to have made the National Team, and it’s a great honor to be top three in the U.S., but I was hoping to win it. I had a great shot. I had a close one with Gilman in the tournament challenge finals and I felt like I let it slip away. That was really tough. I became really hungry to keep improving and get more experience.”

Despite not making the World Team, Tomasello’s hunger for freestyle success never wavered, prompting him to wrestle in a pair of international tournaments throughout the summer. It was the first time in his career that he put a primary focus on freestyle.

“The NCAA tournament is really important for me this year, and I want to win that, but I also want to keep improving in my freestyle wrestling,” he said. “Ultimately, I want to pursue Olympic and World medals. I wanted to get out and wrestle foreign competition this year, and that was the reason I competed a good amount this summer. I always love to compete, so I’m glad that I got asked to go on a few of these trips. I’m thankful that my coaches were on board and supportive of it.”

His first Senior tour kicked off in late-July in Bucharest, Romania, where he competed at the Ion Cornianu Memorial. The international newcomer claimed gold at the event, defeating proven performer Nicolai Okholopkov of Russia in the finals.

Most recently, he finished with silver medal at the well-respected Alexander Medved International in Minsk, Belarus. Tomasello rolled through his first three opponents, outscoring the competition 29-3 before losing a tough gold-medal match to Andrey Bekrenev of Belarus, 5-1.

“The Medved is a great tournament. It’s known as being one of the toughest ones in the world,” Tomasello said. “I felt like I competed really hard. I was just thankful that I was able to bring home a medal. I felt like I had a great opportunity to win it, but the guy that I wrestled in the finals was real tough. I just learned a lot from that as far as what I need to improve on.”

With the freestyle summer season coming to a close, many wrestlers have turned their focuses back to the college season and the top of the NCAA podium. However, 2015 NCAA champion Tomasello is extending his freestyle training just a little longer with a potential World title in his sights.

In February, United World Wrestling, the international governing body for the sport, announced a new event, the U-23 World Championships, which will be held in Bydgoszcz, Poland, over Thanksgiving. This brand-new event allows athletes age 23 and below the opportunity to vie for a World championship, similar to the Cadet and Junior divisions. 

When presented with the opportunity, Tomasello could not turn it down.

“I just want to keep getting better, and I think making that team and going to Poland to represent the U.S. is a great way to do that. It’s another challenge and another opportunity to improve,” Tomasello said.

But before he can book his flight to Poland, Tomasello will go through the U-23 World Team Trials, which are scheduled for next weekend, Oct. 7-8, in Rochester, Minn.

The Parma, Ohio, native thinks he’s got a solid shot at making the U-23 World Team after a summer of experience and living in one of the most talented freestyle rooms in the nation.

Alongside Tomasello in the Ohio State wrestling room every day is two-time World champion and 2016 Olympic champion Kyle Snyder, who will also be a senior for the Buckeyes this year, 2016 World champion Logan Stieber and two-time World bronze medalist Tervel Dlagnev.

“They’ve had really great success and to see their work ethic is awesome. They’ve had a lot of experience, and I just ask as many questions as I can and learn from them by watching. Being in the room with them every day is a good way to stay humble and stay focused. It’s been really good,” Tomasello said.

Joining him in Rochester is fellow NCAA champion Myles Martin, who will compete at 86 kg/189 lbs., and a new Buckeye teammate, All-American transfer Joey McKenna, who is set to wrestle at 65 kg/143 lbs.

What does that mean for the NCAA season?

Tomasello said if he makes the U-23 World Team, he likely won’t wrestle folkstyle until after November. Even without U-23’s as a factor, Tomasello said fans can expect to see him on an abbreviated schedule for the upcoming NCAA season as the Buckeye will go back down to 125 pounds for most of the year.

“Ultimately, I made the choice to go back down, but the coaches also had an impact in that decision as well,” Tomasello said. “The biggest factor was that we have a great shot at winning a team national title. I think me dropping down a weight can help us achieve that. For me, I still get to wrestle at that weight and not have the pressure of making weight every single week. The coaches are allowing me to make it a few times and wrestle at 133 a little bit also. I think that system allows me stay strong at the weight throughout the year.”

The season’s biggest event comes in March at the NCAA Championships, hosted in Cleveland, Ohio, which is less than 10 miles away from Tomasello’s hometown of Parma.

“The goal is to go to Cleveland and win the national tournament as a senior,” he said. “It comes down to being the best guy on those few, important days, and that’s what the season leads up to. I want to continue to prove throughout the year and put my best stuff out there in March. I also really just want to enjoy my last year as a Buckeye and enjoy the overall experience. It’s gone by fast so I just want to take it in as much as I can.”

As he strives for an NCAA title, he’ll also have his freestyle future in the back of his mind.

“I think it’ll be good to keep wrestling these international tournaments because every time I wrestle overseas, it’s a lot of learning and a lot of experience,” he said. “As far as being the best in the world, I feel like I’m getting there. I’m really close. I think Thomas Gilman, when he took silver at Worlds, proved that the United States has some of the best lightweight guys. I’m going to keep improving on a few things, and I think by the end of this coming year and going into next year’s season, I can be the best guy in the world at the senior level.”