The sixth-ranked Ohio State wrestling team has been on an absolute tear since the calendar flipped, impressively bouncing back from a difficult month of December.
Prior to beginning their conference slate, Tom Ryan’s squad had been a walking MASH unit, resulting in uneven performances and poorer-than-expected finishes at both the Cliff Keen Invitational and Collegiate Duals. But now, thanks to improved health and a trio of dominant team victories, the Buckeyes appear to once again be wrestling with swagger. And it could not come at a better time, seeing as though the immediate road ahead is a treacherous one.
In just one week’s time (Jan. 27 – Feb. 3) OSU is set for three matches against ranked Big Ten opponents, which in and of itself is nothing new. Because 12 of the conference’s 14 teams are currently ranked, with Maryland sitting just outside the top 25. But few programs pose a threat like TTUN and Penn State, both of which have an upcoming date with the Buckeyes — on back-to-back Friday nights.
Ohio State will enter those Friday matches as the clear underdog (in both), but should do so with reasonable confidence in their ability to pull off an upset. Said confidence stems – or should stem – from the team’s recent results.
OSU kicked off 2023 with victories over Indiana and Rutgers, beating those teams by a combined score of 53-25. The Scarlet and Gray then traveled to College Park, Maryland, where they took on the Terrapins last Friday night. The Terps owned an 8-1 record in previous duals and held the No. 23 ranking when this one began. But they were no match for the Buckeyes, who were seemingly determined to make turtle soup.
Ohio State jumped out to an early lead thanks to veteran leader Sammy Sasso. The All-American dominated his 149-pound match, coasting to a 12-1 major decision over Maryland’s Ethen Miller. The latter is no slouch, as evidenced by his No. 18 ranking. But Miller stood no chance against OSU’s national contender on Friday night.
Sasso scored a takedown in each period, the last being a near fall in the third. His win gave the Buckeyes a four-point lead they would never surrender. In fact, the lead grew exponentially, resulting in a lopsided blowout.
The 157-pounders were up next, with Paddy Gallagher representing the Scarlet and Gray. He put on a takedown clinic, racking up 22 points and a tech fall. And it only took two periods! You typically don’t see that much offense in such a short period of time, but Gallagher was in his bag.
He nearly pinned Maryland’s Kevin Schork at the end of the second but was ultimately forced to settle for five (team) points. If Ohio State gets this healthy version of Gallagher, it could go a long way in realizing many of its team goals. He is a potential star in the making.
Friday’s third match saw the much-anticipated return of OSU’s Carson Kharchla at 165. Out of action for more than a month, Kharchla has been physically unable to rebound from his frustrating finish in Las Vegas (Keen). But the Buckeyes’ breakout wrestler from a season ago looked to be in fine form against Maryland, earning a 7-2 decision over the Terps’ John Martin.
Kharchla was one of the highest-ranked individuals on this Ohio State roster at the beginning of the season, so his return is yet another big boost for the Scarlet and Gray grapplers.
Isaac Wilcox maintained the OSU momentum at 174, prevailing in a sudden victory over UMD’s Dominic Solis. While his attached dual record “only” reads as 4-3, Wilcox deserves plenty of praise for what he has done recently. Despite being listed on the roster at 157, he has rattled off three straight victories at 165 (x2) and is now 174.
The Buckeyes would love to get Ethan Smith back on the mat and keep Kharchla healthy, but Wilcox gives them plenty of extra flexibility.
At 184, Kaleb Romero continued to build on his already stellar season. A tech fall victory over Maryland’s Chase Mielnik pushed his match record to 17-3 and 9-1 in duals. The super senior from Mechanicsburg (OH) is poised to make a late-season run, but his importance to the Buckeyes in-season should not be understated.
Romero has competed in every single event for this team, helping to carry the load while others have unfortunately dealt with setbacks.
After Maryland forfeited the 197 match, OSU heavyweight Tate Orndorff defeated the Terps’ Jaron Smith to make it a perfect 8-for-8 in favor of the good guys. However, Brendan McCrone was unable to make it a clean sweep when the weight classes flipped. He was pinned in the 125-pound match by UMD’s Braxton Brown, handing the Buckeyes their first and only loss of the evening.
Jesse Mendez (fall) and Dylan D’Emilio (6-3 decision) but a bow on this one for Ohio State, winning at 133 and 141 respectively. The Buckeyes took nine matches in all (out of 10) and decimated their Big Ten opponent by a total score of 38-6. It was the team’s second-largest margin of victory this season, falling just short of their 39-3 beatdown of Lock Haven.
Next up are the Wolverines, and OSU will be traveling to Ann Arbor to grapple with the No. 3 team in the country.
Despite their high team ranking, TTUN only has one wrestler ranked as a top-5 individual. This is not an indictment against the team’s talent, but evidence that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts... Also not a bad thing, as duals are determined by team points. But if the Buckeyes are able to get points from their stars (Sasso, Mendez, Kharchla, Smith, and Romero are all top-9 guys), they could absolutely win this rivalry faceoff.
Friday’s match will not be an easy one, but such is life in the Big Ten. And if you have not yet tuned in to watch this Ohio State wrestling team, now would be a good time to start. Their match against TTUN will be televised on Big Ten Network, beginning at 6 p.m. ET. Have popcorn ready, and Go Bucks!