Ohio State wrestlers took a pre-holiday trip down to the Bayou State, hoping to make their way through a unique format and secure a Collegiate Duals win. The Buckeyes were the second highest-ranked team competing in New Orleans, behind only No. 1 Penn State.
However, the two Big Ten titans were in separate divisions and never slated to face each other. Best to leave that mountain for a future climb.
For these Collegiate Duals, OSU was placed into a six-team pool, joined by Northern Iowa, Lock Haven, North Carolina State, Lehigh, and Cal Poly. Those teams were then split, creating two divisions of three. A round-robin mini-tournament determined the winner of each division, which then resulted in a final showdown between the two division winners... Got all that? It is actually a neat format, but one which unfortunately did not yield the best results for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes began their Christmas week (duals took place Monday and Tuesday) with an easy victory over Lock Haven. The Bald Eagles technically wrestle as a member of the MAC, even though Lock Haven University is considered a DII school. Their MAC affiliation seems even more peculiar when you look at the Eagles’ schedule and see the likes of Davidson, Cleveland State, and Clarion. But enough with the Lock Haven factoids, we are moving on.
OSU rolled to a 39-3 opening win, dominating a number of matches. Sammy Sasso (149 pounds), Gavin Hoffman (197), and Mike Misita (HWT) each won via pinfall, while Dylan D’Emilio (141), Ethan Smith (174), and Kaleb Romero (184) secured major decisions. The Buckeyes’ only loss against Lock Haven came at 165, where Klay Reeves dropped an 8-2 decision. Reeves was wrestling in place of Carson Kharchla; a common theme and/or occurrence for this banged up Ohio State team.
Jesse Mendez and Paddy Gallagher have also missed time, and the absence of key starters began to rear its ugly head for Coach Ryan as the duals progressed.
In their second match, Ryan’s squad went head-to-head with Northern Iowa, a top-25 program. UNI wrestles out of the Big 12 (sure, why not) and appeared to be a legitimate threat to the Buckeyes on paper. That threat was quickly realized when the Panthers took matches at 141 and 149, with the latter being an upset of Sasso. The OSU title contender dropped a back-and-forth contest to Colin Realbuto, marking his second loss in a dual this season.
Romero – Ohio State’s second-highest ranked individual – also lost his match against UNI, to Parker Keckeisen. However, this battle at 184 pounds was not considered an upset, as Keckeisen was likely favored. The Panthers’ two-time All-American and third-place NCAA finisher is one of the rare 184-pounders who can match Romero’s athleticism, doing so on his way to a 3-1 decision.
With UNI up 16-13, the Buckeyes still had a chance going into the heavyweight bout, but UNI’s Tyrel Gordon defeated OSU’s Tate Orndorff to secure a Panthers win. It was Gordon’s second victory of this season over Orndorff, as well as the nail in this particular coffin. Down a few of their key guys, Ryan’s group needed all of their vets to handle business, and that simply did not happen. Sasso’s loss was a major upset, while Orndorff was also the higher-ranked wrestler in his match.
All was not lost for Ohio State in defeat, however, as both Hoffman and freshman Nic Bouzakis wrestled especially well on Monday. Hoffman racked up a fall and a major decision, while Bouzakis went 2-0 with a defeat of UNI’s Kyle Biscoglia. The latter is currently ranked No. 6 at 133 pounds, but he could not out-point OSU’s talented newcomer. Bouzakis was part of the Buckeyes’ historic 2022 recruiting class, and has looked great throughout the first two months of the season.
this just in: Nic Bouzakis is guy. #GoBucks https://t.co/rTMHqiHxUS pic.twitter.com/2fddAHfvcl— Ohio State Wrestling (@wrestlingbucks) December 19, 2022
Looking to shake off a tough loss and leave New Orleans with momentum, Ohio State then faced Lehigh on Tuesday — another top-25 team from a small school, with talented grapplers at many weight classes. The Mountain Hawks are/were more than capable of handing the scarlet and gray a second consecutive dual defeat, but they ran up against a motivated group of Buckeyes.
In a rather uneventful contest, OSU closed out the Collegiate Duals with a 23-12 victory over Lehigh, led by Sasso and Romero. It was dual win No. 300 for Ryan, and the two All-American candidates were among six Buckeyes to notch a dub. Smith, another All-American candidate, also won his final match at 174, finishing 3-0.
While not the result(s) Ohio State was ultimately hoping for, this team cannot be judged properly until they are wrestling at full health. With Kharchla, Gallagher, and potentially Mendez all on the shelf, the Buckeyes are simply missing too many guys. But they have a few weeks to nurse themselves back to health, before entering Big Ten competition. OSU faces Indiana in Bloomington on Jan. 6, where they will look to right the ship.