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Ohio State wrestling is rolling into 2022 with positive momentum

The Buckeye grapplers are now healthy and ready to begin the Big Ten season. The conference is a gauntlet, but one that Tom Ryan should have his guys ready for.

Kaleb Romero’s return from injury has provided a spark for the wrestling Buckeyes
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

The Ohio State wrestling Buckeyes are off to a solid start as they look to bounce back from a disappointing (for them) 2020-21 campaign. OSU has won all four of its duals by a combined score of 121-32, and finished an impressive second out of 27 teams at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. The team now gets a short break before a tune-up against American University and the start of the Big Ten schedule.

So far, the Buckeyes look like the perennial Big Ten and NCAA contender that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing under Tom Ryan.

Last season was difficult for a variety of reasons, and I don’t really read too much into the results. The team finished ninth in their conference, but also ninth in the NCAA Championships. Such is life in the Big Ten; it is a grind. However, prior to the awkward Covid-influenced season, the Buckeyes had finished no lower than third in both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships. Ryan has turned this program into a national powerhouse, and early results from this 2021-22 season tell me one thing: Ohio State has the potential to reclaim its status as one of the best teams in the country.

Now for a small disclaimer: OSU has not faced the toughest schedule. Their most difficult matchups will come throughout the entirety of the Big Ten season. That being said, three of their four dual victories have come against ACC schools, one of which (Virginia Tech) has a top-10 team. The second-place finish in Las Vegas was promising not necessarily because of the level of competition, but because the Buckeyes saw a couple wrestlers secure high finishes in their first invitational or first overall appearance of the season.

At the Keen Invitational, Sammy Sasso lost in the finals at 149, but Sasso wrestling in any finals is no surprise; He will likely see Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell again in the NCAA’s. At 165, Carson Kharchla finished third, as he continues to look great in his return from injury. Kharchla was a former HS Wrestler of the Year, and back-to-back Ohio State Champion, but had not been a part of the main roster until this season. The Keen was his first large tournament as “the guy” at 165, and he showed that he could be a sleeper candidate to podium for the Buckeyes.

Ethan Smith is a vet who keeps getting better with experience, and he took second at 174. To me, the surprise of the meet for the Buckeyes, was Kaleb Romero at 184. Romero had previously spent time at 165 and 174, and though the jump up in weight was expected, this was his first event at 184 — ever. He missed all of November due to injury, but coach Ryan felt comfortable throwing him into the deep end. He more than rewarded the staff for their confidence and looks to be a viable threat at his third weight class. Tate Orndorff also finished fourth at 285.

The Keen Invitational was wrapped up on Dec. 4, leaving the Buckeyes one more dual before their holiday-induced layoff. OSU throttled the Pitt Panthers 30-7 this past Sunday, dropping only two matches and running away with many others. Sasso and Smith scored huge tech falls, and Ohio State soundly beat a Pitt team that currently ranks No. 23 in the country. With the exception of fifth-ranked North Carolina State, OSU took out the best the ACC has to offer, and they will now shift their attention to the Big Ten.

Ohio State will be out of action until after the holidays, when they visit D.C. to take on American, on Jan. 3. The conference slate begins shortly thereafter, and it is a true gauntlet. Big Ten teams currently hold the first three spots in the team rankings, along with five other teams being ranked inside the top-15. Iowa is a unanimous No. 1 and the favorite to win it all. Penn State and Michigan are right behind the Hawkeyes, but it was encouraging to see the Buckeyes finish ahead of the Wolverines in the Keen Invitational.

The first six weeks of 2022 will be put up or shut up time for the Buckeyes. Five of their eight conference duals are against teams currently ranked in the top-14. They will face Iowa, Penn State, and Michigan (currently ranked 1-3) all in span of three weeks. If OSU hits a rough patch, they could easily finish outside of the top-3 yet again. But with Kharchla and Romero now healthy, and Smith continuing his ascent, I think this team will surprise some people.

If the Buckeyes become a national contender, we might even see Paddy Gallagher thrown into the mix. The stud freshman and 2021 Cliff Keen preseason Wrestler of the Year is currently unattached (sort of like JV, but not really), and Ryan has mentioned the possibility of keeping Gallagher off the main roster this season to save a year of eligibility. However, he is the most talented wrestler at 157. Jashon Hubbard and Bryce Hepner have split duties at that weight, and although talented in their own right, they don’t possess the upside that Gallagher does. He could be a secret weapon down the stretch.

The Big Ten season will be a wild ride to begin 2022, as it always is. The Buckeyes are well-positioned to make some noise, and possibly surprise some people. This team has a ton of veteran talent, and high-upside young guys in the pipeline. It should be a fun and exciting rest of the season, as Tom Ryan’s group attempts to climb the proverbial mountain. They are a longshot to finish on top when all is said and done, but expectations are high once again. And that is a good thing for Ohio State wrestling.