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Ohio State’s big men open up big lead, help shorthanded wrestling squad take down Rutgers

Still missing a few pieces, Tom Ryan’s Buckeyes leaned on size and experienced vets to get the win over a top-20 Big Ten opponent.

Ohio State athletics /

Ohio State’s Kaleb Romero kicked off Sunday’s Big Ten dual with a bang, as he pinned Rutgers’ Brian Soldano in their opening match at Covelli Center. It was the first of three straight decisive victories by OSU big men, giving the Buckeyes an early mental edge, as well as a massive 14-point lead.

Tom Ryan’s squad would eventually cruise to a 27-12 home victory, despite veteran staples Malik Heinselman (125 pounds), Carson Kharchla (165), and Ethan Smith (174) all missing from the lineup. Overall, Sunday’s result seemed like a nice confidence builder for this very talented team, albeit one which has consistently struggled with inconsistency (in part due to injuries).

Rather than going in weight class order, this dual began with the big fellas. Romero’s pin came against the No. 14 ranked wrestler at 184, and it gave the Buckeye All-American his 11th win of the season by either major decision (MD), tech fall (TF) or pin (fall). The Mechanicsburg, Ohio native has been a dominant force on the mat for Coach Ryan, but perhaps just as important (this season), is the fact that he has remained healthy.

Romero – along with Sammy Sasso at 149 – has given Ohio State a steady veteran presence during the past month or so of uncertainty. His six-point fall gave the Scarlet and Gray an opening lead which was never surrendered.

The second match of Sunday’s dual was at 197 pounds, and it marked the return of OSU’s Gavin Hoffman. He missed the team’s Big Ten opener at Indiana due to injury, but looked to be fully healthy against Rutgers. Hoffman scored a takedown in each round, en route to a 7-3 decision over the Scarlet Knights’ Billy Janzer. Heavyweights wrestled next, wrapping up a trio of opening matches which featured both squads’ biggest athletes.

Tate Orndorff extended an early lead for the Buckeyes by earning a 15-0 tech fall over John O’Donnell. Ohio State’s biggest big man was up 6-0 after one period, 10-0 after two, and finished the match with an escape and quick takedown in the third. Like Hoffman, and most of his fellow “starters” at this point, Orndorff has also been battling through injury. He appeared fatigued while making his return at Indiana, but bounced back in dominant fashion on Sunday. Hopefully another good sign of things to come.

After a heavier-than-expected appetizer, the rest of this dish (dual) was served (wrestled) in traditional (weight class) order. Competing in place of Heinselman, Andre Gonzales suffered OSU’s first defeat at 125. The redshirt freshman from California dropped a close one to Rutgers’ Dean Peterson, who entered their match No. 13 in the national rankings.

True freshman Jesse Mendez then got his squad back on the board with a low-scoring victory at 133. The crown jewel of Ohio State’s 2022 recruiting class scored an early takedown, and never let his opponent go on the offensive. It was not a flashy victory for Mendez, but an impressive one nonetheless.

Ohio State athletics /

Bad luck caught up with the Buckeyes at 141, when Dylan D’Emilio fell to Joseph Olivieri. After appearing to break a tie in the third period, D’Emilio’s takedown was reversed by video replay, sending the match to sudden victory. However, neither wrestler scored during the extra period, and a win was awarded to the Scarlet Knights via tiebreaker.

Somewhat controversial decision aside, neither wrestler did much to earn a victory over the other. D’Emilio will learn from this one and likely come out much more aggressive in his next competition.

Sasso, Paddy Gallagher, and Isaac Wilcox finished the dual for Ohio State, with each winning their respective matches. Sasso scored three takedowns in the first period (at 149), before coasting to an 11-2 MD. Gallagher and Wilcox then battled to a couple of one-point victories at 157 and 165, with the latter continuing to impress in relief duty.

Finally, up 27-6 and seeing no reason to trout out Smith, Ryan and his staff forfeited the 174-pound match. His decision may have even been predetermined, as long as the Buckeyes found themselves comfortably on top. With so many guys having already spent time on the shelf, resting Smith or any other veteran may be something we see in future matches, provided OSU is afforded the opportunity.

Sunday’s runaway victory was a solid result for a team which should be trending upward. Because it seems that after more than month spent dealing with injuries, Ohio State is finally starting to get healthy again — and doing so at the right time. The team will travel to Maryland this Friday, before taking on TTUN (also on the road) on Jan. 27.

It should be an exciting few weeks, as Ryan’s Buckeyes get to see how they stack up in the ultra-competitive Big Ten.