The Ohio State wrestling team will have a chance to win its second Big Ten championship in a row when it heads to East Lansing, Michigan, Saturday to face off against wrestlers from 11 teams ranked in the top 25.
The Buckeyes have an opportunity to win a team title, but also have multiple wrestlers in contention for individual championships. Ohio State finished the regular season ranked second in the country, but sophomore Luke Pletcher believes the important part of the year has not yet begun.
“Everything before this really doesn’t matter too much,” Pletcher said. “Now we get to the postseason, some people either crumble or they rise to the occasion. I think that just speaks to how we handle the pressure.”
Ohio State (14-1, 8-1 Big Ten) has two No. 1 seeds at their respective weight classes this weekend, but 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist and second-seeded heavyweight Kyle Snyder is not one of them.
Snyder entered the season as a heavy favorite to earn a third national championship, but lost his first match in nearly three years on Feb. 11 to Michigan heavyweight Adam Coon, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound behemoth who did enough to defeat Snyder.
In order for Snyder to capture an individual conference championship, he would likely have to defeat Coon. So in this case, at least, Snyder finds himself as the rare underdog.
“You base somewhat the future by what you’ve seen in the past, right? And the past says that when the stakes are really high he performs really really well,” head coach Tom Ryan said. “Coon is going to get the very best Kyle has to offer. That I can guarantee.”
Ohio State junior 141-pounder Joey McKenna and redshirt sophomore 197-pounder Kollin Moore are both top seeds in their weight classes. But both of them will enter the tournament with wildly differing trajectories.
McKenna has climbed up to No. 4 nationally after upsetting North Carolina State’s now-No. 5 Kevin Jack in the last dual meet of the season. McKenna also upset now-No. 8 Nick Lee of Penn State on Feb. 3, but Lee will be searching for revenge as the second seed behind McKenna.
Moore spent the majority of the season as the top wrestler at 197 pounds, but lost two of his past three matches. He lost to Penn State’s unranked Anthony Cassar in what was the main turning point of that dual meet, which the Nittany Lions won. Moore rebounded against Michigan’s Kevin Beazley, delivering a major decision win over the four seed for the Wolverines. However, Moore also dropped a bout with Michael Macchiavello, a top-10 wrestler from North Carolina State.
Ohio State’s drastically different directions are one of the reasons Ryan believes his team has not yet reached its potential.
“In no one weekend did we really wrestle 10 guys the way they can, and we are banking on this is the first of two weekends where that happens,” Ryan said.
Along with Snyder, Pletcher, a 133-pound wrestler, and 174-pound Bo Jordan enter the tournament ranked second in their weight classes. To capture a conference title, Pletcher will need to beat Michigan’s Stevan Micic, who defeated him on Feb. 11. Jordan is the underdog to Penn State’s Mark Hall, but also lost to Michigan’s Myles Amine.
“I was ahead in both matches and got taken down in the third period on both to lose, so I’m excited for both of those rematches,” Jordan said. “Usually at this time heading into the Big Tens and nationals I haven’t been tested, and I haven’t really wrestled anyone in the top five.”
That is not the case this season. Jordan has faced plenty of competition against the best guys in his weight class. Last season, Jordan beat Hall 6-4 to win the Big Ten championship at 174 pounds, but Hall got revenge at nationals, beating Jordan 5-2 in the championship.
Bo Nickal of Penn State is the top seed at 184 pounds, with Ohio State junior Myles Martin one spot below. The pair has wrestled seven times in their college careers, and there will likely be an eighth matchup this weekend. Nickal leads the series 5-2 versus Martin.
Ohio State senior 125-pounder Nathan Tomasello lost against Iowa’s Spencer Lee on Jan. 21 and didn’t wrestle against Nick Suriano of Rutgers when the Buckeyes beat them on Jan. 7 because he was recovering from an injury.
“We love Nate. It’s his senior year, he’s going for his fourth Big Ten title, and he’s got an opponent that’s real,” Ryan said. “This guy has won three world titles. He thinks he’s going to win. We think we’re going to win, so that’s when the fun starts.”
Tomasello finds himself seeded third behind Suriano and Lee, and would likely wrestle both if he has a chance to win the Big Ten championship.
At 157 pounds, Ohio State No. 4 seed Micah Jordan will be looking for revenge against Michael Kemerer of Iowa. Kemerer is tied with Jason Nolf of Penn State for the top seed, since it is still unknown if Nolf will wrestle after suffering an injury on Jan. 28 against Rutgers. Jordan did not match up with Nolf on Feb. 3 because of the injury.
None of the Buckeyes’ 10 wrestlers is seeded lower than ninth, and nine of them are seeded in the top five. Ke-Shawn Hayes is seeded fifth at 149 pounds and Te’Shan Campbell is slotted ninth at 165 pounds.
Ohio State has aspirations beyond this weekend, which puts an emphasis on being mentally prepared.
“It’s kinda difficult cause as much as you want to have a great performance at the Big Ten’s it’s important. But the endgame is the NCAA tournament,” associate head coach J Jaggers said. “So we can’t dial back our training too much to peak for Big Ten’s because we still have twelve days until NCAA’s start.”