The rarefied wrestling career of Good Counsel High graduate Kyle Snyder found still another capstone Saturday night when he won an NCAA heavyweight title match that witnesses have deemed unparalleled. “This will be the standard which all heavyweight bouts are measured against,” Ohio State Coach Tom Ryan said, his voice still raspy Sunday afternoon.
On a loud night at Madison Square Garden in New York, the 20-year-old Ohio State sophomore trailed a titan of the sport by three points with 30 seconds left in the third and final period. Then Snyder, already the youngest American world champion, kept his head about him while making 19,270 spectators pretty much lose theirs, rallying for a 7-5 overtime win over N.C. State’s Nick Gwiazdowski, who had won his previous 88 matches and the previous two NCAA titles.
“I mean, I never lost hope,” Snyder said Sunday. “There was never a second in the match where I thought I couldn’t come back and win. I knew I just needed to keep wrestling, keep moving my hands and my feet, and eventually I thought the shot would come. I’m pretty good at keeping my head in stressful situations.”
He scored one point on an escape, then two with 20 seconds left after a takedown on which he went for Gwiazdowski’s left ankle — “I knew the shot that I was looking for,” he said — then two on another takedown 25 seconds into overtime. He did so at 222 pounds against a man weighing 256. “I’m not used to pushing around guys that big — yet,” Snyder said.
The NCAA runner-up last year at 197 pounds and a world champion in September in Las Vegas at 213, Snyder wrestled as a heavyweight this college season with the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in mind. Once he reversed an earlier decision to redshirt, wrestling intellectuals began hoping to see him opposite Gwiazdowski. A fan vote made the title bout the last of Saturday evening, which wreaked three hours of nerve-wracking buildup upon those who cared most, said Kyle Snyder’s father, Steve Snyder.
Said Ryan, “You’ve got on one end Nick Gwiazdowski, three-time reigning ACC champion, 88-match winning streak, regarded as one of the top heavyweights in NCAA history. He’s trying to win his third consecutive NCAA title. On the other side, you’ve got Kyle Snyder, the 213-pound world champion, the youngest [world champion] in U.S. history. You’ve got them squaring off in a national final at Madison Square Garden not only for the heavyweight title, but it’s a 256-pound man against 222.”
While 34 extra pounds have their advantages, Ryan cited Snyder’s “high tempo” as a counterbalance. While the average NCAA heavyweight weighs about 245, Ryan said, he said of Snyder, “I would be surprised if any of the heavyweights would be more impressive than him in the weight room,” where, for one thing, Snyder dead-lifts about 700 pounds.
Beyond that, Snyder has “a mind-set that ‘I will keep pressing on and it will happen,’” as Ryan described it, likening it to chops at a tree in Gwiazdowski’s case. Said Steve Snyder, “I knew Kyle was going to just keep attacking. I could just tell by watching him wrestle throughout seven minutes that even though his leg attacks weren’t working as well as they normally do early on, that he was just going to keep trying to get there.”
When he did reach overtime, he brought “a pretty high sense of urgency” and said, “I felt like I wasn’t feeling that tired.” He sought a takedown to avoid battling Gwiazdowski on the mat and got it for one last spark on an electric night of which Kyle Snyder said, “It’s what the crowd wanted.”