Ohio State wrestling suffered its first dual defeat of the season this past Sunday, dropping a tough series of matches to the Pitt Panthers. After splitting the first two matches at 125 and 133 (pounds), the Buckeyes found themselves in an early hole when third-ranked Jesse Mendez suffered his first loss of the season, in any competition.
OSU’s stud sophomore competed in a low-scoring affair against Pitt’s Cole Matthews, with Mendez taking a 1-0 lead into the third period. But Matthews, a four-time NCAA qualifier who began last season as the nation’s top-ranked wrestler at 141, then scored four points in the final period to notch a somewhat surprising come from behind victory.
While Mendez entered Sunday’s match with Matthews as the favorite, it should be noted that the latter went 42-7 over his last two seasons, winning two ACC titles. And it would come as a surprise to no one if these two met again in March at the NCAA Championships. So this was a tough loss for Mendez, but by no means a ‘bad’ one. He should be able to learn from the experience and move on quickly.
From there, Ohio State was able to claw back and take the team lead at the midway point of the dual, thanks to impressive back-to-back performances by/from Dylan D’Emilio (149) and Paddy Gallagher (157). The former went up against Pitt’s Finn Solomon, ranked No. 19 at their shared weight class, and trailed both 5-1 and 9-4 at various points throughout the match.
But always a grinder, D’Emilio stayed within striking distance and scored two takedowns in the third period, notching his own come from behind victory. Gallagher, meanwhile, dominated his match from beginning to end, resulting in a 17-3 major decision and a bonus point for the Buckeyes. He (Gallagher) now boasts a 13-3 record, with as many victories as he had all of last season.
Pitt’s Holden Heller leveled the team score with a win and the Panthers’ first bonus point at 165, before OSU’s Carson Kharchla put the Buckeyes back on top with three matches remaining. The latter pushed his individual season record to 6-2, as he continues to look very comfortable at 174 (wrestled at 165 for three seasons). His only losses were to Virginia Tech’s Mekhi Lewis and South Dakota State’s Cade DeVos, ranked third and seventh at the time, respectively.
Unfortunately, Kharchla’s victory was Ohio State’s last of the dual. Gavin Hoffman (184), Luke Geog (197), and Hogan Swenski (Heavyweight/285) were all defeated quite handily, helping Pitt turn a 10-13 deficit into a 21-13 team win. OSU’s big men have been hit-or-miss all season, with Hoffman dropping down a class and Geog stepping in to replace him as a regular starter. The Buckeyes were also missing their top heavyweight Nick Feldman on Sunday, as he recovers from an injury suffered at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
This dual loss did not greatly impact Ohio State’s ranking or standing among the country’s best, as Tom Ryan’s squad merely slid from No. 5 to No. 10 in the NWCA coaches poll. There is no shame in dropping a close one to a top-15 team, which is what Pitt became after their defeat of the Buckeyes.
Mendez will bounce back, and if social media posts are any indication, it appears that Feldman will return to the mat sooner rather than later.
OSU will get three opportunities to right the ship before 2024 comes calling, all on the same day! The Buckeyes are competing in the Collegiate Duals in Nashville on Dec. 19, where they will take on Northern Iowa, Lock Haven, and North Carolina State. UNI is ranked No. 25 with several nationally-ranked wrestlers, while NC State sits at No. 2 as arguably the biggest threat to Penn State (this season).
The Collegiate Duals are about as good and exciting as it gets prior to March (B1G and NCAA Championships), so might I suggest a road trip to Nashville? I mean, what else are you doing six days before Christmas!? The Buckeye grapplers will be there regardless, hopefully performing well against a trio of tough opponents.