Ohio State wrestlers weren’t granted an extra year of eligibility to numb the pain of a season cut short due to COVID-19, but for some, postseason awards and recognition provided consolation.
Several Buckeyes earned All-American nods among other national honors, and the Ohio State coaching staff hosted a virtual postseason banquet April 21 to provide closure for the athletes.
“Everyone that comes in signs up for a journey that very few are ready for or capable of. Together we prosper in it,” head coach Tom Ryan said. “The college experience of a wrestler and nearly every other sport are quite different. It’s in that difference where the true transformation lies.”
Senior captains Luke Pletcher and Kollin Moore shared two honors at the team’s banquet: the Ray Mendoza Leadership and the Tommy Rowlands Co-MVP awards. The No. 1 seeds in their respective weight divisions heading into the 2020 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship, Pletcher and Moore each earned first-team All-American honors by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
“Being that it was my last year, I was trying to take every moment in. It was just a lot of fun. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life,” Pletcher said.
Moore said much of his final season was spent passing on knowledge to the team’s younger wrestlers.
“Those guys listened, they wanted to learn and I learned some stuff from them, too, so it was a great year,” Moore said.
Moore was a runner-up for the Dan Hodge Trophy, an award given by Wrestling Insider News Magazine to the nation’s top wrestler with criteria spanning from on-the-mat performance to off-the-mat sportsmanship and leadership.
“In the beginning of the season, we talked about: You don’t just want to go out and win a title at the end of the season. You should be thinking about the Hodge Trophy, so that was always in the back of my head,” Moore said.
Redshirt freshman wrestler Sammy Sasso was showered with national recognition after a 24-3 season that earned him the No. 3 seed at 149 pounds entering the NCAA championship. Sasso was named InterMat Freshman of the Year, FloWresting Freshman of the Year and Chris Ford Freshman of the Year — an award given by Ohio State.
“He believes in himself. He loves to train hard. He’s not afraid of fatigue. He had a tremendous year this year,” Ryan said. “Our staff all felt that, had the season continued, that we would have the national champion.”
Sasso, like Moore and Pletcher, earned a first-team All-American distinction, though he lost to Iowa redshirt senior Pat Lugo in the 149-pound Big Ten title match March 8.
Redshirt sophomore Kaleb Romero received Ohio State’s Most Improved award after taking a big leap from his freshman campaign. Romero went up from 165 pounds to 174 in his sophomore year, tallying a 19-7 record that improved upon his 11-6 record as a freshman.
Romero’s efforts earned him a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, a first-team All-American selection and an Ohio State black shirt, awarded by the staff and other black shirts to wrestlers who exemplify both great wrestling ability and leadership.
One weight class below Romero at 165 pounds is redshirt sophomore Ethan Smith, who compiled a 19-13 record that earned him a No. 12 seed in the NCAA championships. With that seeding, the black shirt earned a second-team All-American distinction.
Pletcher said he feels comfortable leaving the keys to the wrestling program with his teammates.
“Sasso, Ethan Smith and Kaleb Romero, they’re all great leaders. They do the right things,” Pletcher said.
Redshirt freshman Rocky Jordan posted a 29-9 record in his first season on the mat. Off the mat, Jordan put in work in the classroom, earning the team’s Highest GPA award with a cumulative 3.96.
As the No. 14 seed in the 184-pound NCAA bracket, Jordan was recognized as an All-American honorable mention.
Redshirt junior Gary Traub, had an unexpectedly successful season. When redshirt junior Chase Singletary went down with an injury, Traub took his place and captured a 23-9 record with two wins coming against top 25 opponents.
Traub was recognized with Ohio State’s Most Courageous award, and would have been the No. 19 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“I think he definitely understood that he could be a big player on the team, and once he got that mindset, he took off,” Moore said.
Redshirt freshman Gavin Hoffman started the season at 184 pounds but transitioned to heavyweight after Singletary went down. Hoffman did not disappoint, with an overall 26-10 record.
Due to his resilience and team-first actions, Hoffman was awarded the Kosta Karageorge Battling Buckeye award, given to a nonstarter who demonstrates selflessness.
“He’ll do anything you ask,” Ryan said. “On time. Trains hard. Whatever he can do for the team, he’ll do for the team.”
The 2020-21 Ohio State season begins Nov. 2 at the Michigan State Open, where Buckeye wrestlers will start a new quest for titles, awards and recognition.