Luke Pletcher was an elite college wrestler at 133 pounds.
He became the 12th Buckeye to earn two All-America distinctions with his performance in the weight class the past two seasons, finishing fourth place in the nation a year ago and qualifying for the NCAA Semifinals the season prior.
But that wasn’t enough for Pletcher.
“The reason I asked to go up, I felt like I lost a little bit of speed, a little power,” Pletcher said. “Something felt off. In the end I wanted to make sure that if I didn’t win a national title then I gave everything. If I’m going to go to [141 pounds], I’m competing at 100 percent of myself, then I better give all that energy in the match and not just sit out there.”
Returning to the weight class at which he finished his freshman season has paid dividends during his senior year –– one in which he has spent nearly the duration as the No. 1 wrestler at 141 pounds and went undefeated until a loss to Penn State No. 2 junior Nick Lee Sunday.
Pletcher’s fast start to his final season, which includes wins against 12 ranked opponents, hasn’t just been in wins and losses. It’s reflected in his approach to wrestling matches in general.
“Lately I have been trying to club them right off the bat,” Pletcher said. “It wakes me up, gives me something to do right at the beginning and then just continue.”
This success is what Pletcher said he set out to find when deciding to come to Ohio State from Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
“There was just an energy in the team. Everybody was excited to be here,” Pletcher said. “They had done what I was trying to do before. They have won national titles here. They have great guys here. I loved the coaches, the training partners. It was a perfect fit for me.”
That fit allowed Pletcher to blossom into a leadership role as a 2019-20 team captain.
The turning point in Pletcher’s career came when he won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational Championship during his sophomore season in 2017.
After a 25-9 freshman record, Pletcher made the leap to compete with the nation’s best, defeating the No. 13, No. 11 and No. 2 wrestlers in his weight class to take home the title.
“I just remember winning and there were some guys that did not know if I was ready,” Pletcher said. “I believed that I could compete with those guys, but until you actually do it, it is hard to put it in your head. I think after that was like the biggest stepping stone and when I fully believed.”
Ohio State redshirt freshman Sammy Sasso, the No. 1 wrestler at 149 pounds, also grew up in Pennsylvania.
Sasso said Pletcher holds an edge over other wrestlers.
“The constant pace, the constant pressure, not letting guys breathe,” Sasso said. “He’s taking it to a new level and putting it on top-ranked opponents.”
Fast starts are important for Pletcher in Big Ten competition, where associate head coach J Jaggers said the matches are cutthroat.
“Every weekend, you have a guy who is pretty competitive nationally,” Jaggers said. “Obviously our conference is the premier conference in the sport of wrestling.”
Pletcher credits his development as a wiser wrestler on the mat to learning from leaders and fellow Buckeyes Myles Martin, Kyle Snyder and Bo Jordan. The latter two were members of Ohio State’s National Championship-winning 2014-15 campaign.
“I knew what hard work was, but there was just something different about the hard work when I got here,” Pletcher said. “There is just another level to it and I did not really understand that until I got here. To see them and practice around them, it just brought everyone up.”
Pletcher starts championship season at the Big Ten tournament March 7. He is maintaining a consistent mindset.
“Just keep on keeping on,” Pletcher said. “I am going to try and soak it all in and absorb it for the last time.”