After an up and down December in which they dealt with injuries and inconsistency, Tom Ryan’s Ohio State wrestling squad was presumably eager to get back on the mat. The schedule obliged this past Friday, as his Scarlet and Gray traveled to Bloomington (IN) in search of their first Big Ten victory.
The rebuilding Indiana Hoosiers are not considered to be among the top-5 or possibly even top-10 teams in the Big Ten, but there are no freebies in college wrestling’s toughest conference.
OSU’s return to action was complicated — or at least made a bit more challenging – by their ongoing struggle with injuries. Three of the team’s regulars (all NCAA qualifiers last season) missed the Big Ten opener, a consistent pattern dating back to the Cliff Keen Invitational held in early December. This time around, it was Malik Heinselman (125 pounds), Carson Kharchla (165), and Gavin Hoffman (197) who sat out, though Ryan is optimistic that his squad could be at full strength sooner rather than later.
Until then, the Buckeyes’ depth will be tested. But it is better for Ohio State to practice caution now, with the goal being to have a healthy roster against the likes of TTUN and Penn State — and especially during the postseason.
Against IU, those wrestling in place of Heinselman, Kharchla, and Hoffman produced mixed results, while veterans Sammy Sasso (149) and Kaleb Romero (184) led the way with dominant victories. OSU dropped a total of four matches, but also took four by either major decision (MD) or fall. The end result was a 26-13 win and a 1-0 start in Big Ten competition.
Wrestling for the Buckeyes in place of Heinselman, true freshman Brendan McCrone dropped his 125-pound match to IU’s Jacob Moran. That 4-2 result gave the Hoosiers their first and only lead of the night, which was quickly erased. Ryan’s squad would then go on to earn a total of 14 team points in the next three matches (two MD and a fall), erasing the early deficit and creating their own comfortable cushion.
Friday was McCrone’s first match in a major dual or tournament, and while the result was surely disappointing, this Ohio product has already taken first place in two Open competitions (FR/SO division). There will be plenty of brighter days ahead.
Stud freshman Jesse Mendez, wrestling in his home state, got OSU on the board first by earning a decisive MD at 133. He scored eight points in the first period and absolutely dominated his opponent throughout the entirety of their match. Mendez came away with a 20-6 victory in the end, setting the stage for Dylan D’Emilio (141) and Sasso to open up a large Ohio State lead.
Those two veterans combined to score 10 team points, with D’Emilio notching another MD and Sasso pinning his opponent in a mere 53 seconds. From that point forward, the Buckeyes never came close to trailing again. However, they did lose three of the final six matches.
Making his long-awaited return to the mat, talented redshirt freshman Paddy Gallagher was up next for Scarlet and Gray. He dropped a close decision at 157, during which you could tell there was rust to be shaken off. The No. 18 ranked wrestler in his weight class, Gallagher had not competed in roughly six weeks due to injury. And IU’s Derek Gilcher was in no mood to play welcoming committee.
A top-20 grappler himself, Gilcher scored three points in the third period to complete a comeback victory for the Hoosiers. His 5-4 decision over Gallagher put a bit of a damper on the latter’s return, but Ohio State coaches were likely more interested in their 157-pounder walking away healthy. Gallagher wrestled with a wrap on his knee, but did not appear to be hobbled. Hopefully that knee will continue to improve with time, giving him an opportunity to finally compete against the best the Big Ten has to offer.
Isaac Wilcox, who normally suits up at 157, moved up to 165 and came away with a solid victory in place of Kharchla. He outscored IU’s Nick South for his second dual win of the season, at two different weight classes — which is easier said than done. Wilcox was followed on Friday night by Ethan Smith (174) and Romero, both of whom continued their winning ways.
They are among the best in the Big Ten – if not the entire country – and showed why against the Hoosiers. Smith earned a 10-4 decision over 18th-ranked D.J. Washington, while Romero built a 12-5 lead in his match, before pinning his opponent in the second period.
Seth Shumate (197) and Tate Orndorff (HWT) closed it out for the Buckeyes, with both coming up short in their respective matches. Shumate took an early lead before IU’s Nick Willham poured it on, and Orndorff did not look like himself during his own return from injury. However, Ryan did not voice any concerns after the match, so conditioning may have simply gotten the best of OSU’s big man. The four-time NCAA qualifier should bounce back quickly.
Ohio State will face a step up in competition this Sunday, when they welcome Rutgers to Covelli Center. Ryan’s squad will then visit Maryland on Jan. 20, before battling TTUN (in Ann Arbor) on Jan. 27. That end-of-the-month showdown will give us a good idea of where exactly these Buckeyes stand in the Big Ten race, provided they are healthy. So let’s hope the injury bug has already bitten its hardest, and that Heinselman, Kharchla, and Hoffman all return soon.