He wasn't there, but we all saw his face and we all saw his signature flex. His varsity jacket was on the bench, but he wasn't wearing it. His signature back tattoo was on display, but instead of his back, it was stretched across the backs of all of his teammates. Kosta Karageorge wasn't in the building Sunday afternoon, but as the Ohio State wrestling team took to the mat in Columbus for the first time since his death, his presence was undeniable.
The event began with a two-minute video tribute to the late Buckeye wrestler, and the sounds of Harley engines revved as his teammates took the mat. Each wrestler had the initials KK on his singlet and a print of Kosta's back tattoo on their shirt. On the Ohio State bench, there was an empty seat on which Karageorge's varsity jacket sat. Perhaps most important was the announcement that took place just before the match, giving details of the new endowed scholarship created in memory of Karageorge. If you're interested in donating, you can find the details here.
The action began with a much-anticipated matchup between All-American and #3-ranked Alan Waters of Missouri and #7-ranked Nathan Tomasello. As he has done twice before this season, Tomasello slipped up early and exposed his back, blowing the match open early. By the time the third period came, the Buckeye captain was trailing 8-1. He wasn't done, though. Tomasello battled back, securing three third-period takedowns. By the end of the match it was clear that Waters had been broken, but it was too little too late as Tomasello fell by a final score of 11-8.
The loss was Tomasello's third on the season. In all three losses he has controlled much of the match but one slip-up cost him big. To Buckeye coach Tom Ryan the reason is simple,"He’s not recognizing some of the positions. He’s recognizing too slow," he explains."You hope that the more positions that he’s in as the season moves along he begins to feel them better. At some point despite all the training there’s a natural feel that kicks in and we need to see that."
Next up was Johnni DiJulius, who controlled Matt Manley throughout, earning a 5-2 decision. Logan Stieber followed, winning by forfeit much to the chagrin of the nearly 3,000 fans in the crowd who wanted to see the three-time national champion wrestle. After three matches the team score was 9-3 Ohio State.
Next up was 149 pounds where #5 Drake Houdashelt was expected to face Ohio State's Randy Languis. However, In a bit of a surprise move Hunter Stieber made his return to the lineup. Stieber, a two-time All-American for the Buckeyes had sat the first month of the season with an injury. As it turned out, Houdashelt was a bit too much for Stieber, who was wrestling his first varsity match in two seasons (Stieber redshirted last year). After a great scramble, Houdashelt took Stieber down and eventually locked up a cradle that he used to pin the Buckeye junior. The pin gave Missouri six team points and tied the score at 9-9.
At 157 pounds it was Josh Demas versus 8-1 Joey Lavallee of Missouri. For Demas, the roommate and best friend of Kosta Karageorge, it was his first time stepping on the mat since losing his friend. Demas set the tone early with a first-period takedown and rode it out to a 3-2 decision victory.
With Bo Jordan still out at 165 pounds, Justin Kresevic was in the lineup against Cody Johnson of Missouri. The match was one of the most entertaining of the afternoon, but Kresevic gave up a late takedown in the third period to force a sudden victory round. He would give up another takedown in that period leading to a 9-7 loss. Heading into 174 pounds, the score was tied at 12.
Mark Martin defeated Mikey England of Missouri 5-2 at 174 pounds and Josh Fox, filling in for Kenny Courts, lost via major decision to Willie Miklus at 184 pounds.
After eight matches, Missouri held a one point lead. That meant that the Missouri coaching staff had a decision to make. Wrestle #2-ranked defending National Champion J'Den Cox against Ohio State's Kyle Snyder at 197 pounds or bump him up to heavyweight to wrestle Nick Tavanello (Missouri's starting heavyweight was out with an injury). In the end they bumped up Cox, robbing the fans of the night's most anticipated matchup. With the Buckeyes trailing by one, Snyder needed to win by bonus points. Otherwise, Tavanello would have to beat Cox for the Buckeyes to win. Snyder answered the bell taking down Eblen time after time en route to a 15-5 victory.
The four team points Snyder earned meant that Tavanello merely needed to lose by less than eight points to send the dual to criteria. Tavanello did more than that, giving Cox all he could handle despite dropping a 4-2 decision.
With all 10 matches completed, the score was tied 19-19, meaning criteria would decide the winner. The teams were tied 1-1 the pin/forfeit criteria and 48-48 on the total team points criteria that meant the rarely used "first takedown" criteria would decide the winner. Since Alan Waters scored the first takedown of the dual meet, the Tigers earned a point and the 20-19 win.
After the match, Coach Tom Ryan seemed less than pleased with the Buckeyes' performance. "We're three months into the season and we have some people making the same mistakes over and over again. That starts to become concerning," He said. "We looked very hesitant, very stressed out there. Even early in the matches before any fatigue sets in at all. I guess that's the biggest concern at this point." Still, he sees lots of potential in the team. "This is a level where everyone has something really good and if you're not fighting every second you find yourself in a predicament that you can't imagine yourself ever being in, so you've just got to be healthy and be on all cylinders. This is a team that come the end of the year can be ferocious if we compete like that.
The Buckeyes will have the next three weeks off before starting Big Ten competition by welcoming the Iowa Hawkeyes into St. John Arena on January 4.