With 2023 and their stellar performance at the (2023) Collegiate Duals officially in the rearview, Tom Ryan’s Ohio State wrestling squad returned from its holiday hiatus to host Cornell last Friday night.
Ranked No. 8 nationally when they walked into Covelli Center, the Big Red presented a big challenge for the Buckeyes, thanks to an experienced roster and ranked grapplers at nearly every weight class. However, the visitors were also down literal all-world 133-pounder Vito Arujau, who has missed much of the season due to injury.
Advantage OSU — one that likely helped determine the result of this top-10 battle.
Ohio State’s Brendan McCrone (125) was defeated in the first match of the night, dropping a tough one to 14th-ranked Brett Ungar. But McCrone’s teammates would then go on to post three consecutive victories, highlighted by Nic Bouzakis’ pin at 133. Wrestling in place of Arujau, the Big Red’s Ethan Qureshi was no match for OSU’s relentless redshirt freshman Nic Bouzakis, who tallied his sixth win via pin or fall in 20 matches.
Bouzakis also has five losses on the season, but profiles as a potential Big Ten and/or NCAA contender come March. His matches have become appointment viewing for yours truly. Although we have no idea how a match between Bouzakis and Arujau would have played out, it is unlikely that the world champion from Cornell would have suffered a loss via fall.
However, the latter was simply not available for this go-round, and his absence ultimately led to important bonus points for Bouzakis and Ohio State.
Jesse Mendez (141) and Dylan D’Emilio (149) followed Bouzakis with impressive wins of their own, propelling OSU to a 13-3 team lead in the process. Mendez has been an absolute wrecking machine on his way to a 14-1 individual record, while D’Emilio is just five wins short of his personal best for an entire season (21 in 2021-22).
But unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Mr. Mo Mentum switched sides after D’Emilio’s latest victory.
Ohio State proceeded to drop four of the next five matches, turning a 10-point team lead into a two-point deficit with just one match (heavyweight) remaining. 12th-ranked Paddy Gallagher surprisingly lost via tech fall at 157, 14th-ranked Gavin Hoffman was pinned in his 184 match, and Bryce Hepner (165) and Luke Geog (197) lost their respective matches to Cornell’s two highest-ranked wrestlers.
Between 157 and 195, only true freshman Rocco Welsh (174) was able to notch a victory for OSU, doing so in impressive fashion. His 20-4 tech fall result yielded the Buckeyes two additional bonus points, which proved to be of the utmost importance.
This dual eventually came down to Nick Feldman (OSU) vs. Lewis Fernandes (COR) at heavyweight, with the Big Red clinging to a slight lead. Ohio State’s big man took the lead midway through the first period, only to surrender it early in the second. Feldman and Fernandes traded takedowns, meaning that the two were tied heading into the third, where the latter chose to start down. Doing so gave Cardenas an advantage, as an escape could have ended the match.
Feldman was unfazed by letting Fernandes get back to neutral. A two-minute ride would have been highly unlikely, so the Buckeye big man knew that he would need at least one final-period takedown to win this match. And when an opportunity presented itself, he struck.
With 30 seconds to go, Feldman shot at Fernandes’ right leg and secured the final takedown (and points) of the match, resulting in a 21-20 team victory for Ohio State — a thrilling one at that.
OSU now owns three dual victories over top-10 opponents this season, which should give Ryan’s guys a fair amount of confidence as they enter Big Ten competition. But college wrestling’s premier conference will be – and pretty much always has been – a gauntlet. Currently, there are five B1G teams ranked inside the top 10, with Michigan and Rutgers lurking just outside. So nothing will come easy in the next few months.
The grappling Buckeyes are back in action Friday night when they are set to host Illinois inside Covelli Center. You can watch the dual on Big Ten (Network) Plus at 7 p.m. ET.