After a bounceback season which saw Ohio State wrestling finish fourth at the NCAA Championships in March, Tom Ryan’s Buckeyes began their 2023-24 campaign in the Keystone State (PA) this past Sunday. But rather than heading east to take on one of Lehigh, Pitt, or Penn State – three of the best and most accomplished college wrestling programs in existence – OSU instead made the trip to participate in this year’s Clarion Open.
The Clarion is open to both collegiate and high school wrestlers, and serves as an exhibition of sorts for some of the country’s top up-and-comers. Ohio State did not compete for team accolades at the Clarion, but rather individual titles. Because unlike the more team-driven Cliff Keen Invitational and/or conference tourneys, these early November tournaments are often used to help determine lineups and evaluate younger wrestlers, of which the Scarlet and Gray have many... I’m talking like, a lot, a lot.
Though the Buckeyes are still expected to perform well in ’23-24, they might be the youngest team in or around the top-10 of most preseason rankings and/or polls. Intermat has OSU 12th in their tournament rankings, while the NCWA coaches’ poll has them 8th. But Ryan’s squad is or will be unproven at multiple weight classes, putting into question both floor and ceiling.
Gone (eligibility) are the likes of Malik Heinselman, Ethan Smith, Kaleb Romero, and Tate Orndorff, all of whom won at least 85 matches during their collegiate career(s). Also out of action, at least for the time being, is Sammy Sasso, a four-time All-American and two-time NCAA runner-up. The latter was the victim of a senseless and violent crime in August, but is now, thankfully, on the mend. Sasso seems determined to wrestle for Ohio State again in the future, and all of Buckeye Nation is certainly behind him.
Replacing years of experience and guys who combined to wrestle hundreds (!) of Big Ten matches will be no easy task. However, Ryan and his impressive staff have plenty of young guns chomping at the bit to prove themselves and hopefully compete with Penn State for B1G and national supremacy. And they will not be going it alone.
Because not only is Sasso still in the picture to lend his voice and experience from afar, but OSU also returns a few veteran grapplers looking to take the next step. Dylan D’Emilio, Carson Kharchla, and Gavin Hoffman are the ‘old dogs’ this season, all of whom have qualified for the NCAAs but are still seeking their first top-5 finish.
As for those young guns previously mentioned, keep an eye on Nic Bouzakis (133 pounds), Nick Feldman (heavyweight), and Rocco Welsh (174), among others. Bouzakis and Feldman were both part of Ohio State’s historic 2022 recruiting class – along with Jesse Mendez who took 6th at the NCAAs last season – but took redshirts as true freshmen. They were ranked No. 2 and No. 3 overall in that ‘22 class, own incredibly impressive junior resumes, and are expected to be roster mainstays (if not stars) moving forward.
Welsh also earned several junior accolades and was the top-ranked recruit in this year’s Scarlet and Gray recruiting class. He started his first season off with a real bang, which is news I should probably just get to...
Welsh was one of four OSU competitors to go undefeated (5-0) and earn an individual title at the Clarion, joining D’Emilio, Feldman, and redshirt sophomore Paddy Gallagher (157) as champions. The true freshman wrestled a trio of close(ish) matches, including his defeat of Navy’s Sammy Starr in the 174 finals. D’Emilio, Feldman, and Gallagher, on the other hand, combined to earn several major decisions and/or tech falls, winning their respective titles in slightly more dominant fashion. But a title is a title, and Welsh certainly impressed in his first official collegiate event.
It should be noted that Mendez and Kharchla also went undefeated, technically speaking. However, the former agreed to a no contest outcome in the 141 final, in lieu of facing teammate and fellow Buckeye Brandon Cannon, who Mendez previously defeated in a wrestle-off. The latter bowed out due to medical forfeit after three wins, hopefully for precautionary reasons.
Elsewhere, Isaac Wilcox impressed at 165 (2nd place, 4-1 record) and Bouzakis finished 4th at 133, starting hot but fading late. He (Bouzakis) racked up two falls in his first two matches but cooled off against Pitt’s Vincent Santaniello and Columbia’s Angelo Rini. True freshman Ryder Rogotzke also impressed at 184, wrestling seven times (!) to earn 5th place.
It is shaping up to be an entertaining/interesting/who the heck knows sort of 2023-24 season for Ohio State wrestling, and it begins in earnest this weekend. The Buckeyes hit the road on Friday, to grapple with a top-5 or borderline top-5 Virginia Tech squad, before welcoming Edinboro to Covelli Center on Sunday... A nice little double dip to get things started.
So fire up those ACCN+ and BTN+ streaming apps and make sure to catch Scarlet and Gray singlets in action.