Ohio State's Top 25 Athletes of 2020-21

By Dan Hope on July 12, 2021 at 8:35 am
Justin Fields

The Big Ten is expected to officially name its best athletes of the year later this week. Ohio State’s nominee for Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year for 2020-21 is former quarterback Justin Fields, while national championship-winning shot putter Adelaide Aquilla is Ohio State’s Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year nominee.

There were many other Ohio State athletes, though, who also had standout seasons during their 2020-21 campaigns.

In less than two months, a new year in sports will begin for Ohio State – one in which all Ohio State sports teams should have the opportunity to play full, normal schedules, which didn’t happen for many Buckeye sports teams in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, there were plenty of athletes who had big years across Ohio State’s 36 varsity sports over the past 12 months, including record-setters, All-Americans and national and Big Ten champions.

Today, we take a look back at the top 25 Buckeye athletes of 2020-21.

While the rankings below are undeniably subjective, and it can be difficult to rank athletes’ performances across a varied assortment of sports, the following rankings take into consideration both individual and team accomplishments across all Ohio State sports.

25. Liza Hernandez, Women’s Lacrosse

Hernandez used the extra year of eligibility granted to all athletes by the NCAA to return to Ohio State for a fifth season and made the most of it, leading the Buckeyes with 38 goals and 43 points. She earned first-team All-Midwest Region and All-Big Ten honors and finished fifth in the conference with 2.92 goals per game.

A two-time team captain, Hernandez finished her Ohio State career ranked fifth in program history in both goals (137) and points (189).

24. Ariel Hall, Rifle

Hall was the rifle team’s leading scorer for the 2021 season, averaging 1,172 points to earn second-team All-American honors as one of the nation’s best. She tied for 13th in the individual air rifle standings at NCAA championships.

She’ll have a chance to build upon those accomplishments next season, when she’ll be a senior.

23. Jack Myers, Men’s Lacrosse

Myers ranked third among all Big Ten players in goals per game and fourth in the conference in points per game with team highs of 34 goals and 45 points in just 11 games in 2021. He scored at least two goals in every one of the Buckeyes’ games in their abbreviated, conference-only spring season.

A first-team All-Big Ten selection for the first time in his career as a junior, Myers is in line to be Ohio State’s top player next season as a senior.

22. Izzy Rodriguez, Women’s Soccer

Rodriguez earned first-team All-Big Ten and Big Ten Defender of the Year honors this season as she led Ohio State back to the NCAA Tournament this spring. She earned first-team All-North Region and third-team All-American honors as a senior captain for the Buckeyes, who went 8-3-3 and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Her accomplishments this year made her a four-time All-Big Ten selection, as she previously earned third-team honors in 2017, first-team honors in 2018 and third-team honors in 2019.

21. Jesse Tyndall, Men’s Gymnastics

Tyndall was one of the best men’s gymnasts in the entire NCAA this year, earning All-American honors with an eighth-place finish in the all-around competition at the NCAA championships. He also earned All-Big Ten honors with a fifth-place finish at the Big Ten championships.

A junior at Ohio State this year, Tyndall could be a contender for conference and national titles next year.

20. Sade Olatoye, Women’s Track and Field

After the 2020 outdoor track and field season was canceled, Olatoye – who had already exhausted her indoor track and field eligibility in 2019 – had to wait two years for her final season with the Buckeyes. She made the wait worthwhile, as she broke the Big Ten record and won her seventh career Big Ten title with a 226-foot toss in the hammer throw, which helped lead Ohio State to the Big Ten outdoor team championship.

Olatoye, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in bioethics and plans to attend medical school, was awarded the Big Ten Medal of Honor in May in recognition of all she has accomplished both athletically and academically during her six years at Ohio State.

19. Paul DeLakis, Men’s Swimming

DeLakis led the Buckeyes to a third-place finish at the Big Ten championships, where he won both the 200-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley, finished second in the 200-yard breaststroke and was a part of 400-yard freestyle, 400-yard medley and 800-yard freestyle relay teams that all finished second. 

In what would be his final competition as a swimmer before pursuing a career in optometry, DeLakis followed that up by finishing fifth in the 200-yard freestyle, 11th in the 200-yard medley, 12th in the 400-yard freestyle relay, 14th in the 200-yard breaststroke and 14th in the 800-yard freestyle relay at the NCAA championships.

18. Dorka Juhász, Women’s Basketball

Juhász earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive year, as she ranked second in the Big Ten with 11.1 rebounds per game for the 2020-21 season and 19th in the conference with 14.6 points per game. She made the midseason watch list for the Naismith Trophy as one of the top 30 players in women’s college basketball and helped lead the Buckeyes to a 13-7 record in a season in which they were ineligible for postseason play.

She’ll be spending the rest of her collegiate career at UConn after opting to enter the transfer portal this offseason.

17. Kristen Romano, Women’s Swimming

There are several members of the Ohio State women’s swimming and diving team who could have made this list after the Buckeyes won their second consecutive conference championship and earned a program-best seventh-place finish at the NCAA championships.

No one made a bigger impact individually, though, than senior Kristen Romano, who won both the 200-yard medley and 400-yard medley and finished second in the 200-yard backstroke at Big Ten championships, where she was also a part of a second-place 400-yard freestyle relay team and a third-place 800-yard freestyle relay team. She also finished eighth in the 200-yard medley and ninth in the 400-yard medley and was part of a seventh-place 800-yard freestyle relay team at the NCAA championships.

16. Ryan Terefenko, Men’s Lacrosse

After using his additional year of eligibility to play a fifth-year senior season for the Buckeyes this spring, Terefenko made Ohio State lacrosse history by becoming the Buckeyes’ first-ever four-time All-American. The Ohio State midfielder earned third-team All-American honors from USILA and second-team All-Big Ten recognition despite missing four games with an injury.

Terefenko was Ohio State’s male recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor this year in recognition of his accomplishments both on and off the field at Ohio State, where he graduated with a degree in sports industry. He now plays professionally for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Chrome Lacrosse Club and National Lacrosse League’s Halifax Thunderbirds.

15. E.J. Liddell, Men’s Basketball

Liddell emerged as the star of the Ohio State basketball team in his sophomore season, averaging 16.2 points per game and a team-high 6.7 rebounds to finish in the top nine in the Big Ten in both categories. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, was one of the final 15 candidates for the Wooden Award and led Ohio State to a 21-10 record, including a run to the Big Ten Tournament final.

After testing the NBA draft waters and attending the G League Elite Camp, Liddell announced earlier this month that he would stay at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes will be expected to contend for the Big Ten title as a result.

E.J. Liddell
E.J. Liddell became the top player on Ohio State's basketball team during the 2020-21 season and will be back for more in 2021-22.

14. Wyatt Davis, Football

Davis became the 33rd unanimous All-American in Ohio State football history in 2020, earning first-team All-American honors for the second year in a row as the Buckeyes’ starting right guard. A team captain, Davis led the way for Ohio State’s offensive line as the Buckeyes scored 41 points per game on 519.4 yards per game in their run to the national championship game.

After a final season that cemented his legacy as one of Ohio State’s most decorated offensive linemen ever, Davis was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the third round of the 2021 NFL draft.

13. Haskell Garrett, Football

Garrett might have had the most remarkable year of any Ohio State athlete. Despite being shot in the face in August, Garrett played in all eight games for the Buckeyes last season and became a disruptive force on Ohio State’s interior defensive line, leading to first-team All-American recognition from CBS Sports and Pro Football Focus.

Although he certainly would have been selected in the 2021 NFL draft after his excellent 2020 season, Garrett opted to use the extra year of eligibility provided to all players by the NCAA to return to Ohio State for a fifth-year senior season, in which he’ll have the opportunity to be one of the Buckeyes’ top leaders and one of college football’s best defensive linemen.

12. Mackenzie Allessie, Field Hockey

Allessie earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors for the 2021 season, in which she scored 15 goals in just 14 games to tie for fifth nationally in both goals and goals per game. She became just the ninth first-team All-American in program history and helped lead Ohio State to a Cinderella run to the Big Ten tournament final after an 0-7 start to the season.

She’ll be playing against Ohio State for the rest of her career, however, as the Pennsylvania native transferred to Penn State last month.

11. Chris Olave, Football

In just seven games last season, Olave caught 50 passes for 729 yards and seven touchdowns. Had he and the Buckeyes been able to play a full season, Olave would have been on pace to catch 107 passes for 1,562 yards – both of which would have been Ohio State school records.

A first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver in 2020, Olave will have the chance to make a real run at the record books in a full season in 2021 after opting to put the NFL on hold for one more year and stay at Ohio State for his senior season.

10. Irina Cantos Siemers, Women’s Tennis

The Ohio State women’s tennis won both the Big Ten regular season and Big Ten tournament championships this year, and Cantos Siemers led the way. An ITA All-American and unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection, Cantos Siemers posted a 22-6 singles record and helped the Buckeyes get to the Round of 16 in the NCAA team tournament, while she also won one match in the NCAA singles tournament before falling in the second round.

Just a sophomore this past season, Cantos Siemers looks poised to be one of the top players in women’s college tennis over the next two years.

9. Cannon Kingsley, Men’s Tennis

Kingsley was unanimously named the Big Ten men’s tennis player of the year after winning his first 27 consecutive singles matches of the 2021 season, leading Ohio State to the Big Ten East title, the finals of the Big Ten tournament and the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

His only blemishes came in his final two matches of the year, as he lost in Ohio State’s NCAA team tournament defeat to TCU and in the first round of the NCAA singles tournament. He’ll still have multiple more opportunities to compete for national titles, though, as he was only a sophomore in 2021.

8. Emily Londot, Women’s Volleyball

Londot’s first season at Ohio State was a spectacular one, as she became the second player in program history to be named National Freshman of the Year by the AVCA. She also earned second-team All-American and unanimous first-team All-Big Ten accolades for her performance during the 2020-21 season, in which she was easily Ohio State’s leading scorer and ranked second in the entire Big Ten with 371 points.

With Londot leading the way, Ohio State went 16-4 this spring and made the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. 

7. Katelyn Abeln, Pistol

Abeln won the women’s individual championship and led Ohio State to both the open and women’s titles at this year’s Intercollegiate Pistol Championships, where she placed first in both the open and women’s competitions in sport pistol.

Already an individual national champion and a two-time first-team All-American, Abeln was just a sophomore this past season, so she’ll be back to chase more national titles for the next two years.

6. Jackson Leverett, Pistol

Leverett starred alongside Abeln in leading Ohio State to a national championship this spring. As a freshman, Leverett won the open individual championships with first-place finishes in both the air pistol and standard pistol competitions.

He’ll be back at Ohio State for three more years of collegiate competition, but first, he’ll head to Tokyo later this month to compete in the Olympics alongside his brother Henry, who’s also a member of the Ohio State pistol team.

5. Tyler Johnson, Men’s Track and Field

Johnson was named the top athlete of the Big Ten indoor championships after he ran to victory in both the 200-meter dash and 400-meter dash and was part of Ohio State’s winning 4x400-meter relay team. He followed that up during the outdoor season by winning the 400-meter dash and finishing second in both the 200 and 4x400 at the conference meet to earn co-athlete of the championships honors.

He closed out the season by earning first-team All-American honors with a seventh-place finish in the 400-meter dash at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships.

4. Anavia Battle, Women’s Track and Field

Battle was named as the Big Ten’s outdoor track athlete of the year after she won the 100- and 200-meter dash and was part of Ohio State’s victorious 4x100-meter relay team at the Big Ten outdoor track and field championships, then finished third in the 200-meter dash at the NCAA outdoor championships. She also finished fifth in the 200 at the NCAA indoor championships.

To top that all off, Battle – who said last week that she has not yet made a final decision on whether she’ll remain at Ohio State next season for her extra year of eligibility – will run the 200 at the Tokyo Olympics after finishing third at the U.S. Olympic Trials with a time of 21.95 seconds, the fastest wind-legal time ever by a collegiate runner.

3. Sammy Sasso, Wrestling

Sasso’s redshirt sophomore season in an Ohio State singlet did not disappoint. The 149-pounder posted a 16-1 record for the season, won the Big Ten championship in his weight class and never lost a match until the finals of the NCAA Tournament, where his only defeat of the season came in controversial fashion as he was not given credit for a takedown in the final seconds that would have won him the match.

Nonetheless, Sasso was one of Ohio State’s most dominant athletes of the year, and he’ll likely be the frontrunner to win the 149-pound national championship for each of the next two years.

2. Adelaide Aquilla, Women’s Track and Field

Aquilla swept the NCAA titles in the shot put this year, winning both the indoor and outdoor national championships. She also won the Big Ten shot put titles at both the indoor and outdoor conference championships, breaking Ohio State’s school record and the Big Ten championships record with her throw of 62 feet, 8 3/4 inches at the outdoor conference meet.

Like Battle, Aquilla followed up her excellent season of collegiate competition by finishing third in her event at the U.S. Olympic Trials, earning her a place on the shot put team that will compete in Tokyo this summer, giving her a chance to add an Olympic medal to what’s already been one of the greatest years ever for an Ohio State track and field athlete.

Adelaide Aquilla
Adelaide Aquilla has already won two national championships this year, and she'll soon be competing for an Olympic medal. (Photo: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports)

1. Justin Fields, Football

Out of all the Ohio State athletes who achieved greatness during the 2020-21 year in sports, the biggest star in the athletic department was Fields, who cemented his standing as one of Ohio State’s greatest quarterbacks ever – if not its best quarterback ever, period – with a spectacular final season in scarlet and gray.

Fields earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Quarterback of the Year honors and won the Silver Football as the Big Ten’s MVP in a year where he set a school record by completing 70.2 percent of his passing attempts, threw for 2,100 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran for another 383 yards and five touchdowns.

Most importantly, he led Ohio State to its first-ever win over Clemson and a berth in the national championship game by throwing for 385 yards and six touchdowns against the Tigers – even after taking a vicious shot to his midsection – in what will long be remembered as one of the greatest individual performances in Ohio State history.

Fields was selected by the Chicago Bears with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

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