Big Ten competition is officially underway for Ohio State wrestling, beginning with back-to-back home duals, the first of which took place last Friday night against Illinois.
Ranked No. 25 rolling into Columbus, the Fighting Illini presented a bigger challenge for the Buckeyes than their dual record might indicate. Sitting 3-3 at the time, the Illini wrestled a tough out-of-conference slate that included duals against Navy, No. 18 Pitt, and No. 5 Missouri — all losses.
But the crew from Champaign also defeated No. 21 North Carolina and boasts a handful of individually ranked wrestlers, including stud Edmond Rush at 174 pounds (No. 3).
Illinois likely entered Covelli Center with additional confidence (in their ability to pull off an upset) due to Ohio State’s unfortunate injury situation. Already down Carson Kharchla at 174, the Buckeyes were also missing Paddy Gallagher (157) for this dual. Those injuries, along with uncertainty and/or relative struggles at 184, have forced Tom Ryan to move guys around and resulted in uneven performances at most of the mid-to-heavy weight classes.
However, none of that mattered last Friday night.
OSU seemed undeterred by injuries or anything else as they handled business and dropped the proverbial hammer on their Big Ten foe. The Buckeyes took eight out of 10 matches, with their only losses coming via decision to wrestlers ranked inside the top-10 of their respective weight classes. And one of those was a 2-1 match decided by riding time. Which is like if a soccer match ended 0-0 and the winner was determined by time of possession... It’s basically a tie.
The big men batted leadoff for a change, with Ohio State’s Luke Geog and Illinois’ Peter Marinopoulos getting the action started at 197. The former made quick work of the latter, racking up 15 points in the first period and eventually earning a win via tech fall (19-2). Geog’s teammate Nick Feldman then doubled the lead for OSU with another tech fall at heavyweight, earning his 16th win of the season against just four losses.
Once the lineup flipped, Brendan McCrone (125), Nic Bouzakis (133), and Jesse Mendez (141) added impressive victories of their own, with McCrone racking up his seventh pin of the season and Mendez earning his 14th win via either major decision, tech fall, or pin.
Bouzakis is tied with Mendez, with 14 such wins, but “settled” for a 9-4 decision over Illinois’ Tony Madrigal.
Dylan D’Emilio suffered the Buckeyes’ first defeat of the night at 149, dropping a 4-1 decision to U of I’s Kannon Webster. The latter is a homegrown product for the Fighting Illini and one of the best young wrestlers in the Big Ten, if not the country. He got the best of the Scarlet and Gray vet on Friday, handing D’Emilio his fifth loss of the season — all to truly top-tier opponents. So it goes without saying that D’Emilio will be calloused and well-prepared come the postseason.
Following D’Emilio’s loss, Ohio State rebounded with back-to-back victories courtesy of Isaac Wilcox (157) and Bryce Hepner (165), both of whom have stepped up this season.
Dropping down from 165, Wilcox filled the starting role vacated by Gallagher, while Hepner continues to prepare and perform when called upon. After Wilcox claimed a narrow decision victory, Hepner pulled off a somewhat surprising pin of Illinois’ Chris Moore, ranked No. 25 at the time. But perhaps this pin is or was a sign of things to come, as Hepner has looked good in limited action this season. He also owns a win (last season) over 3x Michigan All-American Cameron Amine.
Rocco Welsh (174) and Seth Shumate (184) closed it out for OSU, with Welsh dropping the aforementioned 2-1 match decided by riding time and Shumate earning a solid major decision over Illinois’ Caden Ernd. Shumate is quietly 16-4 in his two seasons as a Buckeye, and may very well settle in as the guy at 184 if Ryan and Co. ultimately decide to preserve Ryder Rogotzke’s redshirt.
Next up for Ohio State is another Friday night dual at Covelli Center, this time against the Maryland Terrapins. The Terps are 3-2 in dual competition, with both of their losses coming to ranked opponents (Pitt and Michigan). The action begins at 7 p.m. ET and will be available on B1G+.