The Ohio State wrestling team finished 13th at the NCAA Championships, earning a total of 44 points. For a program with such high internal expectations, this past weekend’s results were likely underwhelming. OSU finished no lower than third nationally during a five-year run that ended in 2019, but they have since fallen back to the pack a bit (no tournament in 2020, ninth in 2021).
Despite the disappointing team result, four individuals did earn All-American honors — two doing so in their first NCAA appearance(s). All four of those All-Americans could return next season, and there is a historically strong recruiting class on the way to Columbus. Fans have little reason to be pessimistic, as these Buckeyes should certainly reload and come back stronger.
Ohio State wrestlers seemed to draw the toughest possible opponent(s) in later rounds of the NCAA Championships and dropped a number of close matches. Sammy Sasso, the 2021 NCAA runner-up at 149, was a 4-seed entering the tournament. He lost two matches, to two of the only three wrestlers ranked ahead of him. Carson Kharchla, who entered as a 7-seed despite having just three losses, drew the eventual 165 pound champion (Missouri’s Keegan O’Toole) for his third match and Iowa’s Alex Marinelli later in the tournament. Marinelli is a 4x Big Ten champ, but one who Kharchla had defeated in a previous dual. Ethan Smith shockingly lost to the 26-seed at 174 pounds, forcing him into the wrestlebacks early, and Kaleb Romero wrestled three of the top five seeds at 184. The best wrestlers usually advance, and they are highly-ranked for a reason, but the Buckeyes never caught a break in their respective brackets.
The most pleasant surprise for OSU was Gavin Hoffman’s performance at 197 pounds. The former top recruit - who won three Pennsylvania state titles and three NHSCA titles - had bounced around between different weight classes, and struggled to find his footing once finally settled in at 197 last year. But he won 16 matches during the 2021-22 regular season and snuck into these NCAA Championships as a 21-seed.
This was his first NCAA appearance, and despite being a heavy underdog, Hoffman took down three higher-ranked opponents to begin his tournament run. He would go on to lose his last three matches, but two of those were against the eventual first and fourth-place finishers. The redshirt junior earned All-American status for his sixth-place finish, and the unexpected run should be a huge boost to Hoffman’s confidence. He could become a real contender in his fifth season for Tom Ryan and staff.
As a collection of individuals, the Buckeyes just didn’t have their best stuff in Detroit, and they caught few (if any) breaks. This is March, so things happen — even in wrestling. To finish seventh just among Big Ten teams was surely a letdown, considering they finished fourth in both the B1G regular-season standings and conference tournament, but in a one-on-one sport, it’s hard to argue with the results. This was a disappointing end to a very solid season. However, with a number of guys returning - and the anticipated arrival of the top three overall recruits - this Ohio State squad is loaded for the 2022-23 season. With Coach Ryan’s history of success, I think it would be foolish to bet against a top-5 overall finish next year. Go Bucks!
NCAA Championships results by class:
125 pounds — Malik Heinselman
Heinselman surprisingly lost his opener to a 21-seed, sending him to wrestlebacks right away. He bounced back with a victory, but was eliminated from contention after his third match and second loss.
141 pounds — Dylan D’Emilio
D’Emilio suffered the same tournament fate as Heinselman, going 1-2. He did give Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman (#2 seed) all he could handle, but was unable to pull off the shocker. D’Emilio was eliminated from NCAA contention after his second loss, but had a solid postseason for the Buckeyes.
149 pounds — Sammy Sasso
Sasso won his first three matches, and looked to be on his way to potentially replicating last year’s success. However, he drew Yianni Diakomihalis in the quarterfinals — the #1 seed and Cliff Keen Invitational winner (where he defeated Sasso). The eventual NCAA champ from Cornell doubled up on Ohio State’s star and sent him to the consolation bracket to face Wisconsin’s Austin Gomez... who had also handed Sasso a previous defeat (Big Ten final). All four of Sasso’s losses this season came against Diakomihalis and Gomez, as he could not figure those guys out. He did rebound to win his fifth-place match, finishing with a 4-2 record and earning All-American honors for a third consecutive season.
165 pounds — Carson Kharchla
As previously mentioned, Kharchla drew a hell of a bracket. He also wrestled much of the tournament with a nasty eye injury. He won his first two matches, before dropping a close one to Mizzou’s O’Toole. He then got back into contention by handling 13-seed Julian Ramirez, setting up a trilogy match with Marinelli. The Iowa vet had Kharchla’s number, and defeated him for a second time this postseason. OSU’s breakout redshirt freshman won his seventh-place match, finishing with a 4-2 record and earning All-American honors in his first attached season.
174 pounds — Ethan Smith
Smith dropped his first match, a stunner to 26-seed Tyler Eischens of Stanford, but in his third NCAA appearance (4x qualifier), Smith had no intentions of going out quickly. He won his next three matches, including one by major decision and one by pin (fall). Unfortunately, Smith was eliminated from contention when he lost his fifth match in sudden victory. He finished 3-2.
184 pounds — Kaleb Romero
Romero was an Ironman over the weekend, wrestling a total of seven matches. He was knocked out of the “winner’s bracket” by eventual 184 champ Aaron Brooks, but clawed his way back into contention for the final sessions. Romero finished 4-3 (three victories by major decision), taking sixth and earning All-American honors.
197 pounds — Gavin Hoffman
Hoffman, the 21-seed, made it to Friday night (session IV) undefeated, but was the fourth Buckeye to go up against the eventual national champion in his weight class. He dropped his fourth match to Max Dean, and would go on to finish sixth, with a 3-3 record. Hoffman’s tournament did not end as well as it started, but he earned All-American honors in his first NCAA appearance.
215 pounds — Tate Orndorff
Orndorff won his first match, but was sent into wrestlebacks after a loss to Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet. He wrestled his way back into contention by notching two additional wins, including an upset of the fifth seed. Unfortunately, he was then bounced from the tournament by a Wolverine and finished 3-2.