Ohio State wrestling is still an undefeated force in the Big Ten, but a two-meet conference road swing against top 15 opponents may test its mettle this weekend.
The No. 4 Buckeyes (7-1, 3-0 Big Ten) will make a trip to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to face No. 1 Iowa (7-0, 4-0) Friday before a matchup with No. 14 Minnesota (7-4, 2-1) Sunday.
“There’s no way to be successful in college wrestling in the Big Ten if you’re not a tough man,” head coach Tom Ryan said. “The more things that [the coaches] see that are tough, the more [the coaches] feel good about [the Buckeyes].”
The Iowa trip will be Ohio State’s first since 2017. Senior Luke Pletcher, the No. 1 wrestler at 141 pounds, and redshirt senior Kollin Moore, the No. 1 wrestler at 197 pounds, were the only Buckeyes on the current roster to have made the trip.
The Golden Gophers are coming off a 22-15 loss in Ann Arbor to Michigan. Ohio State is fresh off its dominant Big Ten weekend defeating No. 9 Wisconsin and Illinois.
“I think both teams just present a lot of unique challenges,” Moore said. “Iowa, just the atmosphere in Carver, it’s pretty hostile. [Iowa] does a pretty good job of packing that house.”
Iowa, Ryan’s alma mater, is Ohio State’s toughest opponent to date. The Hawkeyes have multiple wrestlers ranked in the top five in their respective weight classes and all of their wrestlers ranked in the top 10.
“[Iowa has] a really good team this year. This is a great test for us,” Ryan said. “I know their mindset enough to know that when you go in there, they’re going to have a team that fights hard, and if you’re not ready to fight hard, that’s not going to be good.”
Ohio State redshirt junior 157-pound wrestler Elijah Cleary said wrestling at Iowa is something he’s been thinking about for much longer than his Buckeye tenure.
“I am very excited. Wrestling at Carver is every kid’s dream so I’m not really nervous about it,” Cleary said. “I’m more hyped up and seeing what I can get out of myself out there.”
After his 100th win this past Sunday, Pletcher will face the Iowa No. 3 redshirt sophomore Max Murin in a top 5 matchup. Pletcher then will face No. 5 Minnesota senior Mitch McKee.
Moore, who also achieved his 100th win over the weekend, will be in a top 5 matchup as well, with Iowa No. 4 redshirt sophomore Jacob Warner at 197 pounds.
“I think it’s just another exciting opportunity to challenge myself to see what I can do against a top guy. I’m just excited to see how I’m stacked up against a top guy in the weight class,” Moore said. “Jake’s a good guy, and I’m excited to wrestle him.”
The Buckeyes will have plenty of chances to create some upsets on the mat against the Hawkeyes.
At 149 pounds, Ohio State redshirt freshman Sammy Sasso, the No. 6 wrestler in the class, will scrap with a familiar foe in Iowa redshirt senior Pat Lugo, who is No. 1. Sasso beat Lugo for a third-place finish at the 2018 Midlands Championships.
“Lugo is wrestling well. Sammy is wrestling well. This could be a [national] semi-final matchup,” Ryan said.
Ohio State redshirt sophomore Kaleb Romero, the No. 8 wrestler at 174 pounds, has the chance to upset two ranked opponents this weekend. Romero could wrestle against Iowa No. 3 redshirt sophomore Michael Kemerer and Minnesota No. 7 redshirt senior Devin Skatzka.
Both Ohio State redshirt junior and heavyweight Gary Traub and 184-pound redshirt freshman Rocky Jordan earned individual rankings this week after their performances this past weekend. Traub and Jordan are the No. 23 wrestlers in their respective weight classes.
The Buckeyes will compete against the Hawkeyes at 9 p.m. Friday before traveling to Minneapolis to wrestle Minnesota at 8:30 p.m. Sunday.