Ohio State’s Top 30 Athletes of 2021-22

By Dan Hope on June 13, 2022 at 8:35 am
Jaxon Smith-Njigba and C.J. Stroud
Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

Ohio State had no shortage of star performers across its 36 varsity sports in 2021-22.

From national champions to national award winners and finalists and record-breakers, Ohio State athletes were among the best in their conference and the entire country in a wide variety of sports over the past year.

As Ohio State’s academic year of NCAA-sanctioned competition officially concluded this past weekend with the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, we took a look back at how Buckeye stars performed in every sport over the past 12 months to highlight the best of the best Ohio State athletes for 2021-22.

With so many athletes deserving of recognition this year, we expanded this year’s list of top performers from the top 25 Buckeyes of 2020-21 to a top-30 countdown this year. Even still, there were numerous Buckeyes who were tough to leave out of the rankings.

Among the honorable mentions who just missed the cut:

  • Emily Armstrong, Synchronized Swimming: Freshman won the Individual High Point Award at the U.S. Collegiate National Championship, where the Buckeyes won their 33rd title
  • Rylee Rader, Women’s Volleyball: Sophomore middle blocker earned unanimous first-team All-Big Ten honors after leading the Big Ten and ranking fifth nationally in hitting percentage (43.3%)
  • Jacob Pasteur, Men’s Volleyball: Sophomore outside hitter earned first-team All-MIVA honors and was an honorable mention All-American after ranking fourth in the MIVA and seventh nationally with 417 kills
  • Laurence Wootton, Men’s Soccer: Sophomore midfielder earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for a second straight year after leading the Buckeyes with six goals and 14 points in only 15 games
  • Zach Dezenzo, Baseball: Senior infielder earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after tying Ohio State’s school record with 19 home runs and hitting .319 with a team-leading 54 RBIs

Factors that were considered in compiling the rankings below include whether the athlete or his or her team won national or conference championships, whether the athlete earned All-American or all-conference honors, how integral the athlete was to his or her team’s overall success, whether the athlete broke records and whether the athlete’s accomplishments were unprecedented at Ohio State.

Of course, ranking athletes’ performance across different sports is an inexact science, making the rankings below undeniably subjective and open for debate. All of the athletes below, though, should be remembered for having excellent seasons in 2021-22.

30. Hannah Bach, Women’s Swimming

Bach played a leading role in Ohio State winning its third consecutive Big Ten women’s swimming championship in 2022. The junior was one of two female Buckeye swimmers (along with Amy Fulmer) to win three golds at the conference meet. She earned first place in the 100-yard breaststroke with a school-record time of 57.61 seconds and swam the breaststroke for the Buckeyes’ winning 200 and 400 medley relay teams.

She scored points in three events at the NCAA championships, where she helped lead the Buckeyes to a ninth-place finish. She was a part of Ohio State’s highest-finishing relay team (200 medley relay, which finished third) and recorded OSU’s highest individual finish (sixth in the 100 breaststroke, breaking her own school record with a time of 57.32 seconds) of the national championship meet.

29. Chris Olave, Football

The first of three wide receivers from the football team on this list, Olave finished his historic Ohio State career with his most productive season as a Buckeye, catching 65 passes for 936 yards and 13 touchdowns. In the process, Olave became Ohio State’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions, breaking the record previously held by David Boston during a two-touchdown game against Michigan State.

Olave likely would have become the eighth 1,000-yard receiver in Ohio State history had he not opted out of the Rose Bowl. Nevertheless, Olave earned first-team All-American honors from the American Football Coaches Association and was a first-team All-Big Ten honoree. Also a team captain and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2021, Olave was selected by the New Orleans Saints with the 11th overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft.

28. JJ Tracy, Men’s Tennis

The first of three men’s tennis players on this list, Tracy earned All-American honors for the first time in his career after making a run to the Round of 16 in the NCAA singles championship.

For the season as a whole, Tracy had a team-best 36-6 record in singles and also went 24-6 in doubles. Playing primarily as Ohio State’s No. 3 or No. 4 singles player in dual team matches, Tracy was as reliable as any Buckeye all season as the team went 28-4 and made a run to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

27. Jesse Tyndall, Men’s Gymnastics

Tyndall was one of the top eight all-around male gymnasts in the NCAA for the second year in a row, finishing seventh in the all-around competition at this year’s NCAA men’s gymnastic championships. He led the Buckeyes to a fifth-place finish in their first NCAA championships appearance since 2017.

The senior from Saskatchewan also finished second in the all-around competition at the Big Ten championships to lead the Buckeyes to a third-place finish in the conference.

26. Eric Harrison, Men’s Track and Field

Harrison played a crucial role in leading Ohio State men’s track and field to its first Big Ten championship since 2018. He went 3-and-3 at the Big Ten outdoor championships, winning the individual titles in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes while also running on OSU’s first-place 4x100-meter relay team. He was named as the top male track athlete of the conference meet for that performance.

The senior sprinter was also the runner-up in the 200 at the Big Ten indoor championships and finished ninth in the 200 at this past weekend’s NCAA outdoor championships.

25. Tyler Johnson, Men’s Track and Field

Johnson earned top men’s track athlete honors at the Big Ten indoor championships for the second year in a row as he took the top spot on the podium in both the 200 and 400. He followed that up with another win in the 400 to help lead the Buckeyes to their team title at the Big Ten outdoor championships.

The senior sprinter finished in the top nine in the 400 at both the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships, finishing eighth outdoors and ninth indoors. For his excellence both on the track and in the classroom, Johnson was Ohio State’s male recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor this year. (Women’s soccer defender Izzy Rodriguez was Ohio State’s female Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient.)

24. Georgii Merkulov, Men’s Hockey

In what would be his only season of college hockey, Merkulov led the entire NCAA with seven game-winning goals during the 2021-22 season. He also led the Big Ten in goals per game (20 goals in 36 games) and was Ohio State’s leading scorer with 34 total points.

A first-team All-Big Ten honoree, Merkulov opted to professionalize after just one year at Ohio State, signing a contract with the NHL’s Boston Bruins in April.

23. Jakub Dobeš, Men’s Hockey

As good as Merkulov was in his only season as a Buckeye, he was beaten out for team MVP honors and for Big Ten co-freshman of the year honors by Dobeš, who had the third-best saves percentage in the entire NCAA (93.4%) as a freshman.

Also the Big Ten goaltender of the year for the 2021-22 season, Dobeš is expected back at Ohio State for another year even though he was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2020 NHL draft.

22. Malaki Branham, Men’s Basketball

Like Merkulov, Branham was so good in his first season at Ohio State that it will be his only season at Ohio State. While Chris Holtmann wasn’t initially expecting Branham to be a one-and-done player when he was recruited to play for the Buckeyes, Branham’s performance during the 2021-22 season positioned him to be a first-round pick in next week’s NBA draft.

Branham earned the Big Ten freshman of the year award and third-team All-Big Ten honors after averaging 13.7 points per game for the Buckeyes. Once the calendar year turned to 2022, Branham averaged 17.8 points per game in Ohio State’s final 22 games of the year, giving the Buckeyes a second star alongside E.J. Liddell (more to come on him later).

21. TreVeyon Henderson, Football

Continuing with the theme of freshmen who exploded onto the scene in their first year at Ohio State, that’s certainly what Henderson did in his first season running the ball for the football Buckeyes.

In the first start of his Ohio State career, Henderson broke the school record for single-game rushing yards by a freshman when he went off for 270 yards on the ground against Tulsa. Over the season as a whole, Henderson ran for 1,255 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 184 carries and also caught 27 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns. He broke Maurice Clarett’s school record for touchdowns scored by an Ohio State freshman, earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and was selected to the FWAA’s Freshman All-American team.

20. Irina Cantos Siemers, Women’s Tennis

Cantos Siemers was an All-American and a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection for the second year in a row as she went 34-9 in singles and 26-11 in doubles during the 2021-22 season. She was Ohio State’s No. 1 singles player in most dual matches and went 14-4 while playing from the No. 1 slot.

Ranked 16th in the year’s final ITA singles rankings, Cantos Siemers was the only Big Ten women’s tennis player to earn All-American honors this season.

19. Cannon Kingsley, Men’s Tennis

Although he wasn’t quite as dominant as he was a year ago, when he won 27 consecutive singles matches, Kingsley earned Big Ten men’s tennis player of the year honors for the second year in a row as he went 22-7 in singles and 23-2 in doubles during the 2021-22 season.

While playing as Ohio State’s No. 1 singles player in dual matches, Kingsley went 15-4. He went 12-4 against nationally-ranked opponents. He finished the year ninth in the ITA singles rankings, higher than any other Big Ten men’s tennis player.

18. Paetyn Levis, Women’s Hockey

Levis played a crucial role in Ohio State women’s hockey winning its first-ever national championship. She led the team with 24 goals, the eighth-most in the NCAA during the 2021-22 season.

An alternate captain, Levis was at her best on the biggest stage, scoring goals in both of Ohio State’s Frozen Four wins over Yale and Minnesota Duluth to earn Frozen Four MVP honors.

17. Taylor Mikesell, Women’s Basketball

A transfer from Oregon (and previously Maryland), Mikesell made an immediate difference for the Buckeyes in her first season at Ohio State, helping them make their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2017.

Mikesell earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after scoring 18.6 points per game, the seventh-highest average in the conference. She led the entire nation in 3-point field goal percentage (47.5%) and made a whopping 114 threes, the most ever in a single season by any Buckeye not named Kelsey Mitchell.

16. Garrett Wilson, Football

While there are still two more football players to come on this countdown, there’s a case to be made that Wilson was the best player on Ohio State’s top-ranked offense last season, at least at times. The explosive playmaker earned first-team All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America after catching 70 passes for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 11 games.

After becoming the seventh 1,000-yard receiver in school history, Wilson entered the 2022 NFL draft and was selected by the New York Jets with the No. 10 overall pick.

15. Jack Myers, Men’s Lacrosse

Myers emerged as one of the best players in college lacrosse in 2021-22, earning first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American honors. He scored 83 points, tied for the fourth-most nationally and the second-most in a single season in Ohio State history, on a Big Ten-leading 45 assists.

With Myers (no relation to head coach Nick Myers) leading the way, Ohio State earned its first NCAA Tournament berth in five years.

14. Maxwell Moldovan, Men’s Golf

Moldovan won three tournaments in his sophomore season at Ohio State, finishing in first place at the Nexus Collegiate, Southern Invitational and Robert Kepler Intercollegiate. For the season as a whole, Moldovan was 17 under par; his scoring average of 71.03 was the lowest for an Ohio State golfer dating back to 1980.

The Uniontown, Ohio native was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection and a third-team PING All-American. Putting a cherry on top, Moldovan qualified for this week’s U.S. Open, becoming the first active Ohio State player to make the U.S. Open since Will Grimmer in 2018.

13. Anavia Battle, Women’s Track and Field

After qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team a year ago, Anavia Battle capped off her Ohio State career with a pair of podium finishes at the NCAA championships, finishing third in the 200-meter dash at both the indoor and outdoor championships.

Battle won track athlete of the championships honors at the Big Ten indoor championships, where she finished first in both the 60 and 200. She also won a pair of gold medals in the 200 and 4x100-meter relay at the Big Ten outdoor championships to help lead the Buckeyes to their third straight outdoor conference title.

12. Katelyn Abeln, Pistol

Abeln was the top woman at the Intercollegiate Pistol Championships for the second year in a row as she won the individual air pistol title and had the second-highest individual aggregate score, helping lead the Buckeyes to a national championship for the second straight year.

One of two Ohio State athletes (along with Battle) making this list for the third year in a row, Abeln has earned All-American honors in all three of her seasons as a Buckeye.

11. Jacy Sheldon, Women’s Basketball

Sheldon was the engine of the 2021-22 Ohio State women’s basketball team, taking over point guard duties after Madison Greene suffered a season-ending knee injury just before the season began. She had no trouble handling the additional responsibility, averaging 19.7 points and 4.2 assists per game to lead the Buckeyes and rank in the top eight of the Big Ten in both categories.

A first-team All-Big Ten selection and honorable mention All-American, Sheldon led the way for Ohio State to win a share of the regular-season Big Ten title and finish the year with a 25-7 record.

10. E.J. Liddell, Men’s Basketball

Already Ohio State’s top men’s basketball player in 2020-21, Liddell took his game to new heights in his third and final season as a Buckeye. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in scoring (19.4 points per game) and seventh in rebounding (7.9 per game) while leading Ohio State in both categories for a second consecutive year.

Liddell earned first-team All-Big Ten and third-team All-American honors and also made the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team. With his excellent play on both ends of the floor, Liddell established himself as a likely first-round pick in next week’s NBA draft.

9. Matej Vocel, Men’s Tennis

Vocel earned All-American honors in both singles and doubles for the 2021-22 season after going 31-8 in singles and 39-7 in doubles. The ITA Midwest Region Senior Player of the Year, Vocel was key to the Buckeyes’ run to the team semifinals of the NCAA Tournament and also made a run alongside Robert Cash to the NCAA doubles final.

The Oklahoma State transfer was consistently one of Ohio State’s top two singles players and went 15-6 against nationally ranked opponents. He finished the year 15th in the ITA singles rankings, behind only Kingsley among Big Ten players.

8. Hunter Armstrong, Men’s Swimming

It’s not too often that an active college athlete breaks a world record in his or her sport, but Armstrong did just that in April, when he set a new world record in the 50-meter backstroke with a blistering time of 23.71 seconds at the Phillips 66 International Team Trials.

Armstrong was excellent in collegiate competition this season, too, winning five Big Ten titles in the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle relay, 400-yard freestyle relay and 200-yard medley relay to lead the Buckeyes to a second-place team finish. He also finished fifth in the 100-yard backstroke, the best finish of any Ohio State swimmer, at the NCAA championships.

7. Gabriel Feinberg, Fencing

Feinberg became a national champion in his freshman year at Ohio State, winning the epee title at the NCAA Fencing Championships. He became the third Buckeye in five years to win the epee national championship, leading Ohio State to a fifth-place finish in the national tournament.

A native of Lincoln, Massachusetts, Feinberg still has three more years at Ohio State to potentially win more national titles.

6. Nikki Dzurko, Synchronized Swimming

Dzurko led Ohio State to a sweep of every category at the U.S. Collegiate National Championship. She won the solo national championship, paired with Laila Huric to win the duet national championship and was also a part of the Buckeye squad that took first place in the team category.

It marked the second time in two attempts that Dzurko has won in all three categories at the national synchronized swimming championship, as she was also victorious in the solo, duet and team categories to help lead the Buckeyes to a national title in 2019.

5. Henry Leverett, Pistol

Leverett was the top collegiate pistol shooter in the country this year, winning the individual national championship. He finished first in both the standard and sport pistol categories at the Intercollegiate Pistol Championship, enough to finish 12 points in front of his teammate Abeln in the aggregate categories.

With two more years still to go at Ohio State, Leverett has plenty of time to continue building on a résumé that already includes an individual national title, two team national titles and competing in the Olympics.

4. C.J. Stroud, Football

Following in the footsteps of Justin Fields, the No. 1 athlete on last year’s countdown, Stroud was a Heisman Trophy finalist in his first year as Ohio State’s starting quarterback, finishing fourth in the race for college football’s most prestigious award. As a redshirt freshman, Stroud won the Big Ten offensive player of the year, quarterback of the year and freshman of the year awards.

Stroud completed 71.9 percent of his passing attempts for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He broke Ohio State’s single-season records for completion percentage, passer rating (186.6) and passing yards per game (369.6). To cap things off, Stroud shattered the Ohio State and Rose Bowl single-game passing yards records by throwing for 573 yards (and a Rose Bowl-record six touchdowns) in the Buckeyes’ season finale against Utah.

3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Football

Smith-Njigba had the best season ever for an Ohio State wide receiver in 2021, breaking school records with 95 receptions for 1,606 yards. He had the best game ever for an Ohio State wide receiver – for that matter, one of the greatest single-game performances by any college football player ever – when he shredded Utah for 15 catches, 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the Rose Bowl, breaking the record for the most receiving yards ever in a bowl game.

As great as Stroud, Wilson, Olave and Henderson also were last season, it was Smith-Njigba who truly cemented his place in Ohio State’s history books with an unprecedented level of production for a Buckeye pass-catcher.

2. Adelaide Aquilla, Women’s Track and Field

Aquilla earns the No. 2 spot in our ranking of Ohio State’s top athletes for the second year in a row after not only defending her national title in the shot put but breaking an NCAA record in the process. Aquilla threw the shot put farther than any collegiate woman ever had before when she launched a winning throw of 64 feet and 5 1/4 inches at last week’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

That record-setting throw cemented Aquilla’s place as one of Ohio State’s all-time track and field greats after she won both the indoor and outdoor NCAA shot put championships in 2021. She finishes her Ohio State career as a three-time national champion after finishing as the runner-up at this year’s NCAA indoor meet.

1. Sophie Jaques, Women’s Hockey

In a historic season for Ohio State women’s hockey, Jaques had the greatest season of any player in program history. While she didn’t win the Patty Kazmaier Award – women’s hockey’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy – she probably should have, as she had one of the greatest seasons ever for a collegiate defenseman while leading the Buckeyes to a national title.

Jaques led Ohio State with 59 points (21 goals, 38 assists), the second-most for any defenseman in the last 20 years, the third-most in the NCAA and 11 more than any other defenseman in the 2021-22 season. Her plus-minus rating of 51 was the best in the country. She made crucial contributions on both ends of the ice in Ohio State’s conference and national championship runs, scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals in Ohio State’s WCHA Final Faceoff win over Minnesota.

She became Ohio State’s first-ever top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award and was named the national player of the year by USCHO. And by leading the Buckeyes to their first-ever national championship in women’s hockey, she put her stamp on her respective program more than any other Buckeye athlete over the past year.

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