With a conference and national title nemesis like Penn State, which seems to be consistently head-and-shoulders above the competition, it's easy to forget that Ohio State is, generally speaking, head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the sport of wrestling.
3-6, 0-2 Big Ten Conference
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7 P.M. – FRIDAY, JAN. 11
Consider that at home versus No. 5 North Carolina State, the Buckeyes won seven of 10 matches, and lost what should have been an eighth in sudden victory. A team fielding two first-year starters and a career back-up took a Top-5 team to the woodshed in a 26-10 victory that was two takedowns from being a 30-7 rout.
If fans of the Buckeye wrestling program forget just how good Tom Ryan's team is in the grand scheme of things, this weekend should serve as a good reminder. The team hits the road Friday for a primetime dual meet at Indiana, and will return to St. John Arena Sunday afternoon to host Michigan State.
Ohio State's lineup features seven ranked wrestlers (eight of Ethan Smith starts at 174 in place of embattled starter Te'Shan Campbell). Indiana may not field eight starters with winning records at this point in the season.
Ryan and his staff will use this weekend's duals to further assess who ultimately gets the nod at 174 – the seasoned starter in Campbell or the fresh face in Smith – and may also take the opportunity to pull Malik Heinselman's redshirt at 125 versus favorable Big Ten competition.
The Indiana Hoosiers
Head Coach: Angel Escobedo
Ohio State owns a 49-34-2 edge in the all-time series versus the Hoosiers, including the last nine in a row and 17 of 19 clashes since 1997.
Friday night will be a farewell of sorts for IU's University Gym, as the Hoosiers open a new venue, Wilkinson Hall, Sunday versus Maryland. The Buckeyes, likewise, are in their final season of wrestling in St. John Arena, and will move into Covelli Arena and the Jennings Wrestling Facility ahead of the 2019-2020 season.
The Hoosiers are 3-6 thus far on the year, including an 0-2 mark in the Big Ten and are riding a three-meet losing streak heading into the weekend's meets. It's a transitional year for the program, as they not only move into their new facilities but are under new management with first-year head coach Angel Escobedo working to resurrect his alma mater.
Escobedo took the reins of the program after spending one year as IU’s associate head coach under former coach Duane Goldman, having previously worked three years on the Iowa State staff.
“We are very excited about the future of Indiana Wrestling under Angel’s leadership,” IU Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Fred Glass said on Escobedo's hiring in April 2018. “As a wrestler, he excelled at the high school, collegiate and international levels. As a coach, he has mentored All-Americans and NCAA qualifiers. With a new state-of-the-art $17 million facility set to open, Angel is the right person to lead the program into this new, exciting era.”
A native of Gary, Ind., Escobedo was a dominant wrestler for the Hoosiers from 2007-10: he won the 2008 NCAA title at 125 pounds, and captured Big Ten titles in the weight class three year in a row. He’s the program’s only four-time All-American, and his 137 career wins (second) and 42 pins (third) rank among the best in IU history.
Escobedo has some heavy lifting ahead of him in building a program that can contend with the likes of Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa, but he certainly has the credibility as a wrestler to resonate with high-quality recruits. The money the university has committed to the program in building the Wilkinson Center is another reason IU may be a program to watch in the coming years.
For now, however, Indiana may weigh two men at four different weight classes, and of the 15 men listed on their probable lineup, none are ranked and only seven currently hold winning records this season. It could be a long night for the home crowd in Bloomington.
Ohio State almost had its way with NC State last weekend, winning the aforementioned seven of 10 matches. Kaleb Romero was a takedown away from defeating his first ranked opponent at 165 pounds, Ke-Shawn Hayes was bested at 157 by last year's NCAA runner-up, and Ryan opted not to burn Malik Heinselman's redshirt against a Top-10 foe at 125.
Malik Heinselman (13-3, Fr.)
-OR- Brakan Mead (4-6, So.)
Liam Cronin (8-8, r-So.)
-OR- Elijah Oliver (9-7, Sr.)
|133||No. 5 Luke Pletcher (14-1, Jr.)||
Paul Konrath (1-5, r-Fr.)
-OR- Garrett Pepple (10-6, r-Jr.)
|141||No. 2 Joey McKenna (11-0, Sr.)||
Kyle Luigs (4-2, r-Fr.)
-OR- Cole Weaver (3-4, r-Sr.)
|149||No. 3 Micah Jordan (13-1, r-Sr.)||
Breyden Bailey (5-7, r-Fr.)
-OR Fernie Silva (0-2 Jr.)
|157||No. 8 Ke-Shawn Hayes (12-3 r-Jr.)||Jake Danishek (13-8, r-Sr.)|
|165||Kaleb Romero (6-3, r-Fr.)||Bryce Martin (12-6, r-Sr.)|
Te'Shan Campbell (7-2, Sr.)
-OR- Ethan Smith (11-4, r-Fr.)
|Jacob Covaciu (2-1, r-So.)|
|184||No. 1 Myles Martin (8-0, Sr.)||Norman Conley (8-9, r-Jr.)|
|197||No. 2 Kollin Moore (8-0, r-Jr.)||Jacob Kleimola (9-9, r-So.)|
|HWT||No. 17 Chase Singletary (13-3, r-Fr.)||
Fletcher Miller (2-0, r-Sr.)
-OR- Rudy Streck (2-10, Fr.)
Chances are good that all three of those men win their matches Friday night, because this weekend feels like the perfect opportunity for Ryan to put Heinselman in the lineup. He's listed on the probables as an "OR" with Brakan Mead and Hunter Lucas, he would be favored against either potential Indiana wrestler, and then come back home to face a ranked-but-beatable Rayvon Foley Sunday afternoon.
Ryan has said throughout the season that the staff will put Heinselman into the lineup when they are confident he can contend for an All America placement at the NCAA Championships in March. After last weekend's meet, he told reporters that if the team score had been closer, Heinselman would have gone into the match instead of Lucas.
The other lineup question is at 165, where senior Te'Shan Campbell and redshirt freshman Ethan Smith continue to battle for the starting spot Campbell held throughout last season. Campbell won his match versus NC State, but after an exciting and dominant first period, he didn't put another point on the board.
"Te’Shan found a way to win, but we need to see bonus points," Ryan said. "You’re up 4-1 in the first minute, you should be up 8-2 by two minutes, and so on."
FloWrestling had Smith ranked No. 19 in the class last week on the strength of his performance at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, setting up an interesting situation where the Buckeyes had their ranked man on the sidelines in a dual versus a Top 5 team.
"Tonight didn’t do much to convince us it should be Campbell, and it didn’t do anything to convince us it shouldn’t be Campbell," Ryan said after the meet last weekend. If Campbell doesn't increase his attack rate and show more aggression from the neutral position in general, Smith may be the better long-term option for the team.
Asked Thursday afternoon about the competition for the starting spot, Campbell seemed to take the situation in stride.
"It pushes you to stay focused," Campbell said. "When someone's on your heels the whole time, you can't really get too comfortable."
He noted that he and Smith remain friends and training partners, despite the fact that each is trying to knock the other man out of the spotlight.
"It's part of the sport honestly," he said. "It's part of the game." He and Smith are expected to split the starts this weekend, with one man wrestling in Bloomington and the other taking the mats in Columbus Sunday versus the Spartans.
What to Expect
In two words: Pure dominance. It isn't inconceivable that Ohio State might win all 10 bouts on the card versus Indiana.
Myles Martin (8-0), Joey McKenna (11-0) and Kollin Moore (8-0) all enter the weekend with
flawless season records. The trio is ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 2, respectively, in their
individual weight classes.
Luke Pletcher, Micah Jordan and Ke-Shawn Hayes are all ranked in the Top 10 of their respective classes, and Chase Singletary is in the Top 20 at heavyweight. Collectively, the team has fewer than 20 individual losses across five dual meets and the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
It's unlikely that they'll add many losses to that record Friday night.