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Ohio State wrestling drops tough one to No. 1 Penn State, ends weekend with victory over Northwestern

Winners of nine NCAA Wrestling Championships since 2011, Penn State asserted dominance in Columbus on Friday night. But the Buckeyes bounced back with a Sunday road victory over No. 14 Northwestern.

Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Ohio State wrestling team faced an absolute juggernaut this past Friday night when they hosted No. 1 Penn State inside Covelli Center. Winners of 9 of the last 11 (!) national championships, Cael Sanderson’s Nittany Lions are to college wrestling what the Harlem Globetrotters are to exhibition basketball. They simply do not lose... Unless it is to another Big Ten school, such as Iowa or Ohio State.

One of only two other programs to win a D1 wrestling title since 2011, OSU had PSU’s number in 2015, when the Buckeyes broke a four-year championship run by the Nittany Lions. The latter then won another four in a row (Tom Ryan’s team finished as runner-up three times during this period) before coming in second to Iowa in 2021. Penn State bounced back with a dominant title performance in 2022, and if history is any indication, they could very well be in the beginning stages of a new natty streak.

The defending champs had won 39 straight duals prior to this matchup in Columbus, and were expected to win by a comfortable margin. But Ohio State was riding its own hot streak, having ripped through January undefeated. The Buckeyes even put an exclamation on their flawless month by completing a Michigan sweep. However, the Nittany Lions presented a major step up in competition, to say the least.

Despite having a handful of grapplers ranked inside the top-5 or top-10 of their respective weight classes (10 classes total), OSU may have been favored in two matches heading into this dual. For the most part, those wearing Scarlet and Gray were viewed as significant underdogs. Even guys like Ethan Smith (174 pounds) and Kaleb Romero (184) – both of whom are enjoying fantastic seasons – were projected to lose their individual matches, because Penn State just so happens to have back-to-back national champions at both weight classes

Talk about a tall task... But Ryan’s Buckeyes never back down from a challenge, and Friday night was no exception.

Malik Heinselman (125) began the weekend’s first dual by giving Ohio State at least a little bit of hope. He scored a quick takedown and four-point near fall of PSU’s Gary Steen, before turning control into a first-period pin. It was Heinselman’s 19th victory of the season, including a perfect 9-0 record in duals. But his win was one of only two for the Buckeyes on Friday night, as the Nittany Lions mounted a comeback which proved to be too much for the fifth-ranked team in the country.

At 133, Penn State’s fifth-year senior and two-time defending NCAA champion (of which they have multiple) Roman Bravo-Young got his team on the board with an 8-2 decision over OSU true freshman Jesse Mendez. The Buckeyes’ young standout was unable to mount the slightest bit of offense, as RBY leaned on experience and late-period takedowns to outscore his younger opponent. Ohio State’s Dylan Demilio then lost his 141-pound match, resulting in a 6-6 stalemate after three matches.

Up next, Sammy Sasso notched a come-from-behind victory to give the Buckeyes’ their second and last winning result of the night. After giving up an early takedown and finding himself in an unfamiliar 0-2 hole, Sasso stormed back to double up the Nittany Lions’ Shayne Van Ness, a top-15 grappler at 149. The win also gave OSU its second lead of the night, but said lead unfortunately lasted for all of 10 minutes.

PSU would go on to win the next six matches, despite the Scarlet and Gray sending out a top-25 wrestler at each remaining weight class. The issue Ryan’s squad ran into, is that Penn State has top-10 wrestlers at each of those same weight classes, including three national champions from a year ago. So it’s really like going up against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls during the 1990’s...

You might have a hell of a team, with hall of fame players (or wrestlers), but it’s still not enough. Kaleb Romero came the closest to pulling off an Ohio State upset at 185, but he ultimately ran out of time against Aaron Brooks, who has more national championships than he does losses in the last two seasons.

Friday’s end result was a lopsided 29-9 loss for the Buckeyes, but there is little time to rest or lick one’s wounds in the Big Ten. And one dual loss will not deter this veteran roster. There is/was work to be done, beginning with a Sunday afternoon matchup in Evanston, Illinois.

Roughly 40 hours after their humbling home loss, Ohio State made the trip to Welsh-Ryan Arena to take on a gritty Northwestern team. Ranked No. 14, the Wildcats rolled out top-20 wrestlers at 8 out of 10 weight classes. But they were no match for an OSU squad competing with a chip on its collective shoulder.

The Buckeyes jumped out to a big lead, thanks to wins by Mendez, Sasso, and Paddy Gallagher. They were then able to give Romero and Gavin Hoffman (197) a day off, as they cruised to an eventual 21-12 victory.

There was an ongoing theme during Sunday’s early matches, which I like to call “gut-check wrestling.” Three out of the first five went to sudden victory or tiebreaker, with Ohio State winning all three. Mendez and Sasso both took down very strong opponents, while Gallagher pulled off a much-needed upset of No. 11 Trevor Chumbley (NW, 157 lbs). OSU’s redshirt freshman had gone 2-4 over the course of his last six matches, with three of those losses coming by either one or two points.

Sunday’s decision over Chumbley should give him a nice confidence boost as he prepares for postseason competition. Other winners for the Scarlet and Gray included Carson Kharchla (165), Ethan Smith (174), Seth Shumate (184), and Luke Geog (197).

Ohio State will wrap up its Big Ten regular season schedule with a televised (BTN) home dual against Nebraska this Friday night. Another fringe top-10 team, the Cornhuskers won this season’s Cliff Keen Invitational and have only lost one dual (to No. 2 Iowa) since November 12. So I am predicting an intensely-fought battle. And it will be the Buckeyes’ last competition inside Covelli Center this season, which means you should absolutely tune in or go cheer them on as they look to end their B1G regular season in style.

Go Bucks!