The Big Ten wrapped up its conference wrestling tournament on Sunday night, with Michigan eking out a narrow victory over heavily-favored Penn State. The Wolverines edged the Nittany Lions by a score of 143.0-141.5, and Iowa was not too far behind, finishing with a total of 129.5 points. The three schools jockeyed for Big Ten and NCAA supremacy all season long, and now UM will head into the NCAA Championships – being held in their own backyard – with a ton of momentum.
Ohio State took fourth place in the tournament with 91.5 points, just ahead of a surprising Northwestern team (90.5). Although the Buckeyes failed to win individual titles in any weight class, there were still plenty of positives from the weekend.
First and foremost, OSU will send eight wrestlers to the NCAA Championships, which begin March 17. Sammy Sasso will lead the way with an inevitably high seed, while Malik Heinselman and Ethan Smith each qualified for a fourth time. Dylan D’Emilio, Carson Kharchla, and Gavin Hoffman will be first-timers for the Buckeyes.
Smith and D’Emilio, were among those who impressed the most. D’Emilio entered the tournament as a 7-seed, but won three matches and was given a fourth via medical forfeit on his way to a fifth-place finish. This was his second straight Big Ten appearance, improving over a ninth-place result from last year.
Meanwhile, Smith had arguably the best tournament of all the Buckeyes, finishing third at 174. He entered as a 5-seed, but has a long history of success in this event (6th, 4th, and 2nd in years prior). The redshirt senior dropped his second match to Iowa’s Michael Kemerer, but finished with three-straight victories and had another awarded via medical forfeit, technically giving him five for the tournament. Smith’s most impressive win was a sudden victory (overtime) decision over Nebraska’s 3-seed, Mikey Labriola.
Sasso and Kharchla were among the 1-seeds, and while their tournaments might have ended with disappointment, they both exceled throughout the regular season and should be considered threats in the NCAA Championships. Sasso appeared in his third straight Big Ten final, but dropped a tough bout to Wisconsin’s Austin Gomez. These two could potentially meet again in the NCAA’s, as they are both ranked inside the top-5 at 149.
Kharchla was on the receiving end of two sudden victory heartbreakers. The top seed at 165 lost in the extra period to both Michigan’s Cameron Amine and Wisconsin’s Dean Hamiti, settling for a fourth-place finish. Despite the two losses, the future is very bright for this Columbus, Ohio native who was coming back from a torn ACL.
Last, but certainly not least, Kaleb Romero and Tate Orndorff will also be joining their teammates in Detroit. This makes back-to-back appearances for Orndorff, after spending his first few years at lower-level Utah Valley, and a third straight qualification for Romero. Romero wrestled very well over the weekend, earning major decisions in each of his first few matches. Unfortunately, he would go on to drop a close semifinal to eventual 184 champ and Olympic bronze medalist, Myles Amine — and yet another sudden victory decision in the third place match.
The 2021-22 season has been, and will hopefully continue to be, a nice rebound season for the Buckeyes. They finished ninth in both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships last year, and were viewed by some to be in a rebuilding state. But fourth place in the ultra-competitive Big Ten is a solid result, not that of a middle-tier team. All of that being said, “solid” is not the goal for Tom Ryan and his squad. Sasso and Kharchla will be looking to replicate their regular-season excellence, while guys like Heinselman, Smith, and Romero will be out to prove that they should also be mentioned among the nation’s elite wrestlers.
Best of luck to these Buckeyes in the upcoming NCAA Championships!
Malik Heinselman, 125 pounds – Big Ten finish: 5th
Heinselman went 3-2 in the Big Ten Championships, with an additional victory awarded via medical forfeit. He entered the tournament as a 4-seed, but was handed a surprising defeat by 7-seed Michael DeAugstino of Northwestern. This is his fourth time qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
Dylan D’Emilio, 141 pounds – Big Ten finish: 5th
D’Emilio went 3-2 in the tournament, with an additional victory awarded via medical forfeit. This will be his first NCAA appearance.
Sammy Sasso, 149 pounds – Big Ten finish: 2nd
Sasso secured a spot in the final after only two matches. He was tied with Wisconsin’s Austin Gomez as late as the third period, but dropped that final 8-5. Despite the loss, he should be a serious candidate to win the 149 national title. This is his third time qualifying for the NCAA’s.
Carson Kharchla, 165 pounds – Big Ten finish: 4th
Kharchla suffered one loss during the regular season before dropping two in this tournament. Both losses occurred during a sudden victory period, which was not kind to Ohio State wrestlers. The redshirt freshman will be out to prove that the Big Ten results were a fluke in his first NCAA appearance.
Ethan Smith, 174 pounds – Big Ten finish: 3rd
Due to the way the bracket played out, Smith technically finished with an impressive five match wins (one via medical forfeit). The veteran has a habit of wrestling his best in the Big Ten Championships, but also performed well in last year’s NCAA Championships (5th). He, like Heinselman, has qualified for the NCAA’s four years in a row.
Kaleb Romero, 184 pounds – Big Ten finish: 4th
Romero dropped two very difficult matches, but scored three solid victories as well. In a stacked weight class, this redshirt senior faces a tough challenge in Detroit. But Romero did compile a 10-1 regular season record and has improved year after year, so he is my sleeper to make some noise in the NCAA’s.
Gavin Hoffman, 197 pounds – Big Ten finish: 8th
Hoffman gave top seed Eric Shultz of Nebraska all he could handle in the quarterfinals, but dropped his last two matches to finish eighth. This will be his first NCAA appearance.
Tate Orndorff, 285 pounds – Big Ten finish: 8th
Orndorff drew the short end of the stick, facing three of the top six seeds in the 285 class. He did come away with two victories, and will make his second consecutive NCAA appearance since transferring to Ohio State.