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Ohio State's Lance Palmer ready to make run at first NCAA title

Ohio State's Lance Palmer holds Iowa's Brent Metcalf down during the Big Ten finals. Kevin Schlosser photo.

Ohio State's Lance Palmer heard the talk.

And he was not overly pleased about it.

Palmer said the talk started after his 6-2 loss to Iowa's Brent Metcalf in the 2009 NCAA semifinals in St. Louis.

He heard it again when he lost 3-1 to the 2008 NCAA champion and Hodge Trophy winner in the team's February dual meet in Iowa City.

"Metcalf and the coaches from Iowa were saying that I was content to keep it close," Palmer said. "They said last year at nationals I was content to lose by four. That's something that motivated me a lot. It's something that really pushed me. I've always gone out there with the intention of beating the guy. I've never gone out there to keep the match close. I want to win."

Palmer kept his match close with Metcalf again on Sunday in their 149-pound finals bout at the 2010 Big Ten Championships. He gave up the opening takedown and trailed 3-1 late in the second period.

But this match turned out differently than the previous four. The top-ranked Metcalf was called for a one-point locked-hands violation, and Palmer followed with an escape to tie the match 3-3 entering the third period.

Palmer then came out on top in a third-period scramble, catching two-time Big Ten champion Metcalf on his back in the final 20 seconds en route to a 9-3 win. Palmer climbed to his feet and flexed as the crowd at Michigan's Crisler Arena cheered wildly.

"It was exciting because it was my first Big Ten title, and it was my first win in five tries against Metcalf," Palmer said. "I have the monkey off my back now."

Palmer avenged his only two losses of the season at Big Tens. He also beat Wisconsin's Kyle Ruschell in the semifinals. That vaulted Palmer to the No. 1 seed for the NCAA Championships, set for March 18-20 at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.

Metcalf is seeded second and Ruschell fourth. Barring an upset, Palmer would face Ruschell in the semifinals. Ruschell beat Palmer in the third-place match at the 2009 NCAA tournament.

A confident Palmer said in his Big Ten post-match interview that he was going to beat Metcalf again at the NCAA tournament.

"I wasn't trying to be cocky or arrogant by saying that. Not at all," Palmer said Wednesday. "I meant no disrespect at all to Metcalf. I just wanted to let people know how I feel. I know I can beat him if we wrestle again.

"It's about two great wrestlers wanting the same thing. We are both seniors and we both want to be the best in the country. I'm sure he can't wait to wrestle me again. Hopefully, he comes after me and it's another great match. I just have to show up and wrestle. If I do that, I know I will win."

In the most recent match, the burly Palmer was able to slow down the hard-charging Metcalf.

"When he was trying to finish the single leg in the first period, I fought it for a good 45 seconds before he got the takedown," Palmer said. "And then I think the biggest difference was I rode him in the second period for a minute and a half. I think it got him frustrated and maybe took something out of him."

Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said Palmer has stepped up his game this season. Palmer placed fourth, eighth and fourth at the NCAA tournament the past three seasons.

"I think there is a sense of urgency for Lance this year," Ryan said. "He has tremendous respect for Metcalf and he knows how hard he trains. Lance has always worked hard and competed hard, but he's raised his level this year. He's gone from Level 9 to Level 10 this year, with 10 being the highest. He's been relentless in practice and trained at a very high level. And he's never been more focused."

Palmer is part of a strong Buckeye team that finished second behind Iowa at the last two NCAA tournaments.

The Buckeyes also have top wrestlers in NCAA champion Mike Pucillo at 184, NCAA runner-up Reece Humphrey at 141 and Big Ten runner-up Colt Sponseller at 165.

"We need everybody to step up and perform," Palmer said. "If we do that, we can do real well."

Palmer came to Ohio State with glowing credentials. He was a four-time Ohio state champion for national powerhouse St. Edward High School.

"Lance has tremendous talent, tremendous ability and tremendous mental toughness," Ryan said. "It's not a big surprise that he beat Metcalf because he has that type of ability. He had a strong inner belief that it was possible. He's wrestling with a lot of confidence right now."

Palmer immediately jumped into the Buckeye lineup as a true freshman and earned a top-four finish at the NCAA meet.

"I came in and felt like I was ready to compete right away, but it took me a while to adjust," he said. "I was a little shaky early, and then everything started to click in January."

He threw a major scare into Metcalf in the 2008 NCAA quarterfinals, dropping a 3-2 decision before slipping back to finish eighth.

He then lost to Metcalf in the semifinals last year before finishing fourth.

Palmer, who is scheduled to graduate in June with a degree in communications and a minor in nutrition, plans to try his hand in mixed martial arts once this wrestling season ends.

"I love the intensity of it," he said. "I'm not a big fan of freestyle and Greco. I feel like I can use my wrestling skills and add onto it in MMA."

For now, his focus is on first-round opponent Seth Morton of Ohio on Thursday morning, March 18 at the NCAA Championships.

"It's been real disappointing the last couple of years at nationals," he said. "I just have to wrestle each match as hard as I can. I have to go out there and try to dominate like I have all season.

"I know this is my last year and my last opportunity. I have some unfinished business. I haven't won a national title yet and I haven't got what I wanted yet. I have the fire to finish on top this year."
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