After a 5-0 start, the Ohio State wrestling team has fallen back down to Earth. They were defeated soundly by TTUN, and fell short in a closer-than-expected match to the Iowa Hawkeyes. The team rebounded by wiping the literal mat with Maryland (39-4), and are now off until Feb. 4, when they face top-ranked Penn State. The Nittany Lions recently destroyed TTUN, which does not bode well for Tom Ryan’s team — the Buckeyes lost to the Wolverines 29-8. But dropping a few matches in the uber-competitive Big Ten is no surprise, and after a rough (for OSU) 2020-21 campaign, Ryan’s grapplers have Ohio State squarely back in the national conversation.
The Buckeyes were humbled by TTUN on Jan. 14. The Wolverines came in to the Covelli Center undefeated, and dominated from beginning to end. Sammy Sasso (149) and Carson Kharchla (165) were the only victors in an otherwise underwhelming performance. One week later - again in a packed Covelli Center - Ohio State tasted defeat once more... but this time, the Buckeyes gave Iowa all they could handle, and dropped a close one 21-12. The final score was not indicative of how close the match really was. OSU only trailed 14-12 upon completion of the 184 match. The Hawkeyes then added a decision and a major decision to close it out at the heaviest weight classes. TTUN and Iowa were ranked No. 3 and No. 2 respectively, and have since flip-flopped in the national rankings.
Losing two straight home duals is never a good thing, but in this case: it’s also not a bad thing! TTUN and Iowa are two of best teams in the country. The best team in the country is Ohio State’s next opponent, Penn State. Such is life in the Big Ten. Half of the top-10 nationally is made up of teams from the Big Ten, and it’s nothing new. “New” is Tom Ryan’s Buckeyes finishing outside of the top-3. Ryan has built a dynasty of sorts, and this season was an opportunity to reclaim their place among the elites. Despite two (and possibly three out of four) recent losses, the team has done exactly that.
Driving Ohio State’s success and a few of the main reasons for optimism, are veterans Sasso, Malik Henselman, and Kaleb Romero — along with redshirt freshman (and a finally healthy) Kharchla. The three vets have collectively qualified for seven NCAA Championships, and Kharchla showed a ton of promise as a high school wrestler and during his unattached season with OSU. Since recovering from a knee injury that caused him to miss all of last year, he has helped form a fearsome foursome... read that again, three times fast.
Each wrestler mentioned above is ranked inside the top-10 at their weight class, with Sasso coming in as the highest (No. 2 at 149). He is a real national title contender, and it appears as if Kharchla might join him. Kharchla took down Iowa’s Alex Marinelli, who was ranked No. 1 at the time. Ohio State’s redshirt freshman currently sits at #4. Joining those four in the top-10 is Ethan Smith (No. 7 at 174), despite having four losses. Smith is a three-time NCAA qualifier himself, so he knows what it takes to get back there. All five of these wrestlers have at least a chance of winning an individual championship, whether it be in the Big Ten or NCAA’s.
Ohio State will, in all likelihood, finish the regular season fourth in their own conference. However, depending on how things shake out, they could very well make some noise in the big tournaments. The Big Ten and NCAA Championships are much different than the traditional duals. The Buckeyes will not be head-to-head with one team. Their best wrestlers will have an opportunity to survive and advance, and OSU has top-10 representation in half of the weight classes — a number similar to that of the three Big Ten teams ranked above them. Anything can happen in tournament-style competition, and Coach Ryan has often pushed his guys to peak in February and March.
Although the team has collectively hit a bit of a skid, the close loss against Iowa was promising, and the guys at the “top” of the roster are performing well. Sasso is a monster, Kharchla is a future star, and Romero and others are proven vets looking to finish out their career(s) strong. Don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes give Penn State problems next week, and keep an eye on this team as the season inches towards one of the most exciting tournaments in college sports.