There will be an asterisk in the history books for the 2020 NCAA Division I wrestling championships.
Two Ohio State seniors will not have a chance to achieve what was once a reachable goal, and many days, weeks and months will go by before they could take on an opponent again.
After winning individual titles at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships, Ohio State seniors and No. 1 seeds Kollin Moore and Luke Pletcher were ready to make their final run at becoming national champions.
Just days later, though, those plans were dashed by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“What made it so difficult, besides the fact they were seniors, is that they were the favorite and it was right around the corner,” head coach Tom Ryan said. “It was like you could taste it.”
Hailing from Burbank, Ohio, Moore redshirted his first year before capturing conference titles at 197 pounds in his first two full seasons and All-American honors in his first three.
Moore placed top four in the NCAA championships each of the past three seasons, including a runner-up finish in 2019, and appeared ready to reach the top of the heap in his final year.
He posted a 27-0 record while earning his third Big Ten title this season, including 10 major decisions, six technical falls and four pins.
“I felt really prepared for nationals,” Moore said. “I’m very confident that me and Pletcher and [redshirt freshman Sammy Sasso] would have won.”
Pletcher placed fourth in the NCAA championships at 133 pounds as a sophomore and junior while capturing All-American distinctions both years, but the Latrobe, Pennsylvania native did his best work after moving up to 141 pounds this season.
Pletcher dropped only one match out of 27 to earn a record that included 11 major decisions, five technical falls and three pins. In the Big Ten tournament finals, Pletcher avenged his only loss and was crowned a Big Ten champion for the first time.
After coming home from the Big Ten tournament in Piscataway, New Jersey, the Buckeyes had two weeks to prepare for wrestling’s Big Dance.
“Going into the tournament, I was as confident as I could have been,” Pletcher said. “There was no doubt in my mind that Saturday night my hand was going to be raised.”
Then on March 8, the NCAA announced that spectators were not allowed to attend.
The tournament was to be held at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis –– the first time the event would have been held at a football stadium. With 45,000 seats available, the NCAA announcement meant the event could no longer break attendance records as anticipated.
“It’s the first time anything like this was tried. It was going to be wildly successful, so wrestling lost out,” Ryan said.
Then the ax came.
One week away from the start of NCAA championships, NCAA president Mark Emmert announced on March 12 that all Division I winter and spring championships were canceled due to COVID-19.
While some could take solace in the potential to return to that stage the following year, Ryan was not one of them.
“You also never want to take for granted that maybe one of the eight that qualified for us, maybe they never make our team again or maybe they’re injured, or something happens, right? So you never want to say, ‘Well there’s next year,’ because you don’t know if there’s next year,” Ryan said.
However, Ohio State’s captains were at peace with the final decision.
“The only way you can cope with it is knowing you did everything possible. I made all the right decisions, I lived the right lifestyle, I worked as hard as I possibly could and it stinks that you don’t get that chance, but there’s a lot of people who didn’t get the chance either,” Pletcher said.
Moore said the team achieved the targets it set at the beginning of the year.
“We all grew a lot this year as a team and as wrestlers and as people, so it’s definitely not a year wasted,” Moore said.
There’ll be a dark cloud over the 2020 season for Moore, Pletcher and the other 328 wrestlers who qualified for the championships, and Ryan said it won’t soon dissipate.
“It’s something that, no matter how long you’re alive for, I think you carry it with you,” Ryan said. “You’ll move forward, but you’ll carry it with you.”