Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
Any time a top-ranked team in the country comes to town, it’s a big match. But when that team is a bitter conference rival, the two-time defending NCAA champion and a team that dominated you the prior year, the showdown is on an even greater level.
This is the scenario facing the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes wrestling team (10-2, 4-2 Big Ten) as it prepares for its final regular season conference match against No. 1 Penn State (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) at St. John Arena in Columbus this Sunday.
The contest, which follows a match against Michigan Friday night in Ann Arbor, Mich., could be OSU’s most daunting task of the season. And it just so happens to be Senior Night for the Buckeyes.
“(The crowd’s) a ‘Scarlet-Out’ so it’s gonna be rocking,” said OSU coach Tom Ryan. “There’s nothing more exciting than being in front of a huge crowd … We gotta make them a factor, it’s gonna be fun.”
This is an OSU outfit that seems to feeds off the intensity of the home crowd, dating back to the 2011-12 season. Impressive home victories against No. 15 Virginia Tech, No. 12 Michigan and No. 2 Iowa last year, coupled with wins against then-No. 18 Pittsburgh and then-No. 19 Wisconsin this year, have made St. John Arena a difficult place for some of the nation’s best teams.
In fact, since the 2011-12 season, OSU is 8-1 at home.
“Having a home crowd is definitely an advantage,” said Nikko Triggas, a senior 125-pound wrestler. “Our fans are loud. You get a take-down, the place explodes. You stick a guy, the place goes even more nuts. It’s always an incentive to win in front of your home crowd.”
Triggas is competing in his last home match as a Buckeye and said the emotions will be mixed come Sunday.
“My parents are flying in tonight (from Moraga, Calif., Triggas’ hometown) to watch me against Penn State,” Triggas said Wednesday. “It’s always good to say ‘goodbye’ to the fans at Ohio State, and having a Senior Night is the way to do it.”
Despite having the emotional edge of Senior Night and the home crowd backing them, the Buckeyes will have their hands full with Penn State. The defending national champions come into the match having spent much of the season ranked No. 1, and they dismantled OSU, 34-9, in State College, Pa., last year.
“They have a couple of studs that score a lot of points,” Ryan said. “But it’s a winnable duel for us … We gotta do it now.”
Such a challenge is not lost on redshirt sophomore Logan Stieber, the defending 133-pound NCAA Champion.
“They’re the former No. 1 team in the country,” Stieber, who returned from injury against against Illinois last Friday, said. “So it’s a big, big match.”
Ryan doesn’t think his team is letting last year’s outcome hinder their preparations for Sunday.
“That duel last year, we had three or four starters out … and that’s not an excuse, we just didn’t have our entire team in there,” Ryan said. “We’re an improved team, the matchups are good against Penn State, and we can’t wait.”
Stieber, a team captain, said the defeat last year is in the minds of every OSU wrestler on the team, but they aren’t going to let it influence how they compete Sunday.
“Seeing all of our fans, just there’s something about being home,” Stieber said. “Hopefully we get off to a great start and just keep rolling from there.”
OSU is scheduled to take on Penn State Sunday at 4 p.m. at St. John Arena.