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Ohio State wrestling caps off strong season with 4th-place finish at NCAA Championships

Five Buckeyes earned All-American status, helping to secure the program’s best NCAA finish since 2018-19.

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

For the first time since 2019, Ohio State wrestling is back among the sport’s elite. The Buckeyes took fourth in this past weekend’s NCAA Championships, just missing out on a Big Ten “medal sweep” (Penn State and Iowa finished 1-2). Regardless, it was an impressive end to the 2022-23 season for an OSU program that had sort of over-promised and under-delivered in recent years.

Prior to the Covid pandemic, Tom Ryan’s squad(s) had rattled off five consecutive top-3 finishes at these NCAAs, in addition to three Big Ten titles and a national championship in 2015. But the past few seasons did not go according to plan, with certain veterans struggling to take that next big step and very few underclassmen pushing the incumbent talent.

Ohio State maintained relevancy during their lean(ish) years, but there are just higher expectations for a Ryan-coached team. This program wants to compete for NCAA wrestling supremacy and push both Penn State and Iowa within their own conference. So although the Buckeyes finished fourth in back-to-back B1G Championships and well back of now-10x champion PSU this past weekend, the 2023 postseason did prove to be a major success for OSU, as well as a reminder to the wrestling world that Ryan’s Scarlet and Gray are still a force to be reckoned with.

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Ohio State saw five grapplers earn All-American status at the NCAA Championships, ultimately leading to a tournament-ending battle for third place among teams. OSU’s 149-pounder Sammy Sasso took on Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell in the last match of the entire weekend, with only a few points separating the Buckeyes and the Big Red. Unfortunately, Diakomihalis once again proved to be Sasso’s kryptonite, defeating him for a third time and becoming just the fifth NCAA wrestler ever to win four individual D1 titles.

It was still a hell of a tournament for Sasso, who dominated most of his other opponents. He now has two NCAA runner-up finishes in his career, to go with two Big Ten titles. If Sasso chooses to return, he would likely begin next season as the odds-on favorite to win that elusive 149 title. So here’s hoping The Savage considers one more run in Columbus.

Sasso was far from the only standout of the weekend, as many other Buckeyes achieved career-best results on the national stage. Kaleb Romero was perhaps the best feel-good story among them, as he punctuated his six-year Ohio State odyssey with a hard-fought third-place finish at 184 pounds. OSU’s spiritual leader of sorts went 6-1 over the course of the tournament, only dropping a match to Penn State’s Aaron Brooks, who would go on to win his third consecutive NCAA title. Romero will now likely ride off into the sunset, but if he has any interest in coaching... I’m just sayin’.

Jesse Mendez, Dylan D’Emilio, and Ethan Smith rounded out the Buckeyes’ impressive group of All-Americans, with Mendez doing so as a true freshman and D’Emilio as an unlikely 17-seed. The latter was especially impressive throughout his NCAA weekend, nearly defeating 1-seed Real Woods of Iowa before successfully taking down 3-seed Cole Matthews of Pittsburgh. D’Emilio wrestled a ton of close matches against top-tier competition this season and his hard work ultimately paid off with a well-earned All-American nod.

Ohio State will head into this offseason with quite a few question marks, but also tons of talent in the Scarlet and Gray pipeline. Romero, Smith, Malik Heinselman (125), and Tate Orndorff (HWT) are moving on, to be replaced by younger, potentially inexperienced wrestlers. But among that group of eventual replacements are four top-50 recruits from the 2022 class, including No. 2 and No. 3 overall... No. 1 in that class just so happened to be Mendez, the Buckeyes’ true freshman All-American.

D’Emilio, Paddy Gallagher (NCAA qualifier at 157 this year), and Carson Kharchla (2x NCAA qualifier at 165) should all be back, hopefully joined by Sasso. But regardless of whether or not the latter returns, OSU will still hit the mats with a very talented group next season. Until then, Go Bucks!