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What kind of NCAA history will Snyder and ‘Gwiz’ make at NCAAs?

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Updated: March 16, 2016

By Mike Finn

Nick Gwiazdowski and Kyle Snyder sat about 12 feet apart in the pressroom of Madison Square Garden in New York City on Wednesday.

RETURN TO WIN’S NCAA CENTRAL

Come Saturday night, these two respective heavyweights from NC State and Ohio State may actually come face-to-face, literally, in what may become the featured match of the 2016 NCAA Championships in MSG.

That’s if Gwiazdowski, the two-time NCAA champion and seeded No. 1 at heavyweight in this year’s national tournament, and Snyder, the 2015 World freestyle champion and seeded No. 2, both actually win four matches during the three-day tournament to set up the championship bout at 285 pounds.

But for now, both can only talk about the what-if of this story that began in January, when Snyder — the 2015 NCAA runner-up at 197 pounds, who was taking an Olympic redshirt much of this season why competing overseas — announced that he would indeed wrestle this postseason for the Buckeyes … and at heavyweight, where Gwiazdowski won the last two NCAA titles for the Wolfpack.

“I just remember that it would be another challenge and I’ve overcome challenges before,” recalled Gwiazdowski, a senior from Delanson, N.Y., on when Snyder made his announcement. “I talked to coaches and people on the staff and we changed some things up, but overall we were on a solid track to begin.

“If I want to be the best on Saturday night (for the NCAA finals), it will be against a quality opponent. I’m not going to find any easy guys to walk through. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

Snyder, who is just a true sophomore, said he has only practiced his freestyle moves this winter and enters the 2016 NCAAs with a 6-0 record … and a Big Ten championship.

“Wrestling the type of opponents I’ve wrestled, some of the best guys in the world and guys who wrestle at heavyweight, will help me compete in this tournament,” said Snyder. “I’m focusing on the little things to help me improve so that I can wrestle freely.”

Gwiazdowski, who first earned All-American honors at Binghamton in 2012, before transferring to NC State with his coach Pat Popolizio, enters his final national tournament with an 84-match winning streak and is looking to become the first three-time champion for the Wolfpack.

“I think about (making history) sometimes when I’m in training,” said Gwiazdowski, who defeated former Minnesota heavyweight Anthony Nelson for the 2014 national title and Michigan’s Adam Coon in last March’s NCAA title. “It’s pretty special when people say you win this next tournament you could be one of the best ever in the weight class, especially with the people I’ve watched and competed against in this weight class and overall in the NCAA.

“But what you talked about being here in my home state of New York and potentially against a quality guy like (Snyder), it just makes everything better. As a fan you look forward to it and also as an athlete, because you really test yourself and see what you have within you; see where you’re really like. And I think that’s something that tells a lot about the person you are.”

Snyder got more attention the past year for winning a World freestyle title in September than what he did a year ago in St. Louis, where the Buckeye got pinned by Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson in the 197-pound final.

Nearly 12 months later, Snyder also remembers that loss and the internal conflict he had while also trying to celebrate the school’s first-ever NCAA team title.

“It was hard and it was a mix of emotions,” said Snyder, a native of Woodbine, Md., who spent his senior year training in freestyle at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs before attending Ohio State. “We won the team title and some of my best buddies won the NCAAs.

“You don’t want to be jealous and you want to be happy for them. But as an individual, you want the same thing. It was kind of hard for me to be around them. I was super happy that we got it done as a team, but it was hard to be with them because I was hurting pretty bad. The rest of the night was not that fun. Coach Ryan made me come up and speak.”

Snyder did not make a prediction on a possible match with Gwiazdowski, but said he would not get caught in the same move that pinned him in last year’s NCAA final.

“I learned a decent amount from that match,” Snyder said. “I wouldn’t say that it catapulted to me what I did, but I learned a lot and re-evaluated the way I think about the sport … and I got better in that underhook position. I’m not going to get thrown again hopefully that way again.”

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