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Know Your Wrestling Foe: Ohio State Buckeyes

The Buckeyes return the bulk of their lineup after finishing 9th at the NCAA Championships in 2021

Big Ten Championship
Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso finished runner-up at the NCAA tournament as a sophomore in 2021 and returns to anchor the Buckeye lineup.
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

After taking a look at Nebraska’s potential lineup in 2021-22, we’re into previewing the competition. Here’s the list so far:

Iowa Hawkeyes

Penn State Nittany Lions

Michigan Wolverines

Minnesota Golden Gophers

In my opinion, there are multiple tiers among the Big Ten teams. It’s Iowa and Penn State at the top with a pretty wide gap to the second tier. Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota and today’s feature Ohio State comprise the list of Big Ten teams with a legit shot at a team trophy in 2021-22.

Looking at the Buckeyes, they bring back nine starters from last year’s squad that finished in ninth place at the NCAA tournament back in March. They’ve also added a tough-nosed freshman transfer and the country’s top-rated pound-for-pound wrestler in the class of 2021. Despite losing a starter in Elijah Cleary via the transfer portal, this year’s Ohio State team looks to be even better.

Weight-By-Weight Preview

125 pounds

Ohio State returns a senior who is a two-time NCAA qualifier and was a Big Ten semifinalist in March in Malik Heinselman. The Buckeye fell short of All-American status at NCAAs but did earn regular-season wins over a pair of All-Americans in Wisconsin’s Eric Barnett and Michigan State’s Rayvon Foley.

Ohio State v Maryland
Malik Heinselman (top)
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Heinselman went 11-5 in 2021 and holds a 53-31 career record. The senior isn’t a world-beater, but he’s a threat to earn All-American honors in his final season.

133 pounds

This is a weight where the Buckeyes will be forced to break in a new starter, and it’s not because last year’s starter graduated. Jordan Decatur went 6-4 at 133 pounds in 2021 before failing to make weight for the Big Ten Championships. That almost guarantees he’ll be forced to move up to 141.

The starting spot here should come down to junior Dylan Koontz and freshman Will Betancourt. Koontz has a career 27-15 record and went 1-1 last year, while Betancourt is a transfer from Lock Haven who was a Pennsylvania state champ.

141 pounds

This is a weight where Ohio State started two guys a year ago and will be adding another to the mix from 133 in Decatur.

Sophomore Dylan D’Emilio went 10-8 a year ago while earning the starting nod over sophomore Anthony Echemendia. D’Emilio finished ninth at Big Tens and went 2-2 at the NCAA tournament.

Echemendia, a native of Cuba, is very skilled and talented at the international style of freestyle, but he’s struggled with folkstyle. After a season of finding out that he needs to work on his game on top and bottom, I expect Echemendia to win this starting gig. He went 4-1 a year ago despite being dominated on bottom and not being able to control on top. With some seasoning in those areas and the fact that he’s electric on his feet, he’ll soon be a force for the Buckeyes.

As mentioned above, Decatur is moving up to 141. He went 6-4 a year ago and is a solid wrestler. It’s just a shame for him and the Buckeyes that he can’t seem to hold at 133.

149 pounds

Here is where the Buckeye lineup starts to get really tough as they trot out one of the country’s best pound-for-pound wrestlers.

Big Ten Championship
Sammy Sasso
Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Sammy Sasso has started two years for Ohio State and has a 40-4 career record in those two years.

In March, Sasso downed Nebraska’s Ridge Lovett 5-2 to win the Big Ten title at 149 pounds (video below) before going on to lose his only match of the season in the NCAA final to North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor. Sasso finished the year 16-1.

With three years of eligibility remaining, Sasso should turn into an all-time great for Ohio State. The one-time super recruit has turned into a bona fide superstar.

157 pounds

Last year’s starter Cleary transferred to Pittsburgh after going 7-8 on the year, but Ohio State brought in a solid replacement in Paddy Gallagher.

The best pound-for-pound wrestler in the class of 2021, Gallagher comes to Ohio State ready to compete for All-American status. The two-time Ohio state champ also won titles at 2018 Ironman and 2019 Junior Nationals before downing the No. 4 p4p wrestler Travis Mastrogiovanni at FloWrestling’s Who’s No. 1 event in 2020. Mastrogiovanni is going to Oklahoma State.

Barring injury, Gallagher will be a hammer for Ohio State at 157 and eventually 165 for years to come.

165 pounds

This will be an interesting weight for Ohio State. Senior Ethan Smith returns after going 15-4 last year and earning All-American honors with a fifth-place finish at NCAAs, but his job still might not be safe.

Ohio State v Maryland
Ethan Smith (top)
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

After beating Smith out for the job at 165 pounds in a wrestle-off before the 2019-20 season, sophomore Carson Kharchla redshirted anyway and went 16-0. Then after beating NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis at the 2020 RTC Cup, Kharchla tore his ACL before the start of the shortened season, leaving the door open for Smith.

This season, it’ll be a tight battle between Kharchla and Smith for this starting spot. Both were decorated prep wrestlers, as Smith was the FloNationals champ in 2017 and Kharchla was a Fargo Freestyle National Champ in 2018 and an Ironman champ in 2019.

Whoever doesn’t win this job will likely move up in an attempt to compete for a spot in the starting lineup.

174 pounds

With either Smith or Kharchla moving up, it’ll be another roster battle against returning starter Kaleb Romero. Smith went 19-12 in 2018-19 at 174 pounds so he’s spent plenty of time up at this weight, while Kharchla wrestled at 170 pounds as a senior in high school.

Ohio State v Maryland
Kaleb Romero (left)
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Romero is an extremely big man for 174 pounds, so it might actually be in his best interest to move up to 184. He went 11-6 last season while falling one win short of All-American status at the NCAA tournament.

184 pounds

If Romero moves up in weight, he’ll likely battle incumbent Rocky Jordan for the spot. Jordan, much like Romero, was also a win away from All-American status last season. He finished the year with an 8-10 record while going 3-2 at NCAAs.

Ohio State v Maryland
Rocky Jordan
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Romero seems to be the better wrestler and this might even be a more natural weight class for him, so again we see someone being forced to move up to try to win a job.

197 pounds

Ohio State’s Gavin Hoffman failed to qualify for NCAAs a year ago after finishing the season with a 5-7 record and failing to place at the Big Ten Championships.

This was and is a weak spot for Ohio State and I think moving Jordan up to 197 makes a lot of sense to maximize Ohio State’s lineup.

285 pounds

Two former starters at 285 for Ohio State have left via the transfer portal this summer, leaving the Buckeyes with just Tate Orndorff. Last year’s starter, Orndorff finished his first year at Ohio State with an 11-11 record.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Tate Orndorff (right) wrestling Nebraska’s Christian Lance at the 2021 NCAA Championships.
Photo by Scott Rovak/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Chase Singletary, who holds a 45-12 record at heavyweight for Ohio State is transferring after losing his starting gig to Orndorff. Singletary was injured in the 2019-20 season before “Gas Tank” Gary Traub took over for the remainder of the season. Then Orndorff took over in 2021 after transferring from Utah Valley where he had a 44-13 record.

I know that’s a lot, but just know that both Singletary and Traub will not be at Ohio State this season, leaving just Orndorff.

After a disappointing start to the 2021 season, Orndorff was able to finish 8th at NCAAs to earn All-American status. He’s a solid heavyweight, but the loss of Singletary and Traub hurts Ohio State’s depth.

How Would Nebraska Fare in a Dual?

These will be two veteran-laden teams who are very familiar with each other if they’re set to dual this season.

This match at 125 between Heinselman and Liam Cronin will be a legitimate coin flip. It’s anyone’s guess.

Nebraska’s Boo Dryden should have a slight advantage over either Koontz or Betancourt, while Nebraska’s Chad Red Jr. should beat whoever Ohio State sends out at 141 fairly comfortably.

Sammy Sasso will be a heavy favorite against Nebraska’s Brock Hardy, although they met multiple times a couple years ago while both still in high school. I really look forward to possibly seeing this match. Fingers crossed.

Gallagher is a stud, but Nebraska’s Lovett just took Sasso to the wire in March so he should be favored, even as the smaller wrestler. At 165, Nebraska’s Peyton Robb could be looked at as the favorite, but he’ll have his hands full with either Kharchla or Smith.

Mikey Labriola should beat either Smith or Romero, who he’s beaten multiple times, while Taylor Venz of Nebraska could be considered a favorite in a tight matchup against either Romero or Jordan.

Nebraska’s Eric Schultz will likely dominate at 197, while Lance and Orndorff split matches last season.

This team matchup has a lot of coin-flip and strength-on-strength matchups, so it could really go either way. Hopefully when the Big Ten schedule comes out, this dual will be on it.