A Golden Age: Ohio State Has Solidified Its Place As An Elite Wrestling Program

By Andy Vance on March 25, 2019 at 4:30 pm
The NCAA Wrestling Championships
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State University wrestling team finished the 2018-2019 season with a runner-up placement at the NCAA Wrestling Championships in Pittsburgh Sunday. With a final team score of 96.5 points, this marked the fifth consecutive top-3 placement for Tom Ryan’s Buckeyes, bringing another team trophy home to Columbus.

Hardware Haul

  •  2019 NCAA Runner-up
  •  2018 NCAA Runner-up
  •  2017 NCAA Runner-up
  •  2016 NCAA Third Place
  •  2015 NCAA Champion

Ohio State sent three No. 2 seeded-contenders to the NCAA Finals and had five team members finish on the All-American podium. Those five Top-8 finishes brought the Buckeye tally to 110 All-America honors all-time, with 53 coming during the Tom Ryan Era (2007-present).

Coach Ryan has guided the Buckeyes to a top-10 finish in 12 of 13 seasons at Ohio State and reached the top-3 in more than half (7) of his 13 campaigns as Ohio State head coach. In addition to the current three-year streak his teams also finished as NCAA runners-up in 2008 and 2009.

Given the current string of Top-3 finishes and the dozen individual championships his competitors have won, Tom Ryan's tenure as head coach is looking more and more like a golden era for Buckeye wrestling. The 2018 team was a match away from upsetting Penn State for the team's second NCAA title in four years, and the 2019 team finished 12.5 points ahead of 3rd-place Oklahoma State.

Here's a look at how the Buckeyes have performed in the NCAA Tournament over the past five years relative to the rest of the field:

NCAA Wrestling Championships Final Team Scores
Place 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015
First 137.5 - Penn State 141.5 - Penn State 146.5 - Penn State 123.0 - Penn State 102.0 - Ohio State
Second 96.5 - Ohio State 133.5 - Ohio State 110.0 - Ohio State 97.5 - Okla. State 84.0 - Iowa
Third 84.0 - Oklahoma State 97.0 - Iowa 103.0 - Okla. State 86.0 - Ohio State 75.5 - Edinboro
Fourth 76.0 - Iowa 80.0 - Michigan 97.0 - Iowa 82.0 - Virginia Tech 73.5 - Missouri
Fifth 62.5 - Michigan 80.0 - NC State 86.5 - Missouri 81.0 - Iowa 71.5 - Cornell

Penn State has clearly separated itself from the rest of the sport since Cael Sanderson arrived in Happy Valley, having won eight NCAA team titles in nine years' time. Program superstars Zain Retherford, Bo Nickal and Jason Nolf have exhausted their title-winning eligibility, although the team will be talent-laden again next season.

For Buckeye fans, the takeaway is that Ohio State remains the only program to consistently challenge the Nittany Lions' dominance, and the gap between OSU and every other program in the country is significant. And that gap shows no sign of narrowing, as Ohio State moves into a new training facility Ryan describes as "without question the greatest wrestling facility ever built," and the top recruiting class in the country walking through the door.

Slaying the Lion(s)

If the team from State College is the undisputed benchmark, how do they do it, year in and year out? The formula is pretty straightforward: advance a lot of wrestlers deep in the tournament and pick up as many bonus points as possible along the way.

Looking at how the two teams compared over the past three seasons when they finished first and second in consecutive seasons, here is how scoring broke across weight classes:

NCAA Tournament Points by Weight Class
  2019 2018 2017
125 DNQ 0.5 DNQ 20.5 (3rd) 0.0 2.5
133 5.5 (8th) 13.5 (4th) 0.5 12.5 (4th) DNQ 15.5 (3rd)
141 16.0 (5th) 19.5 (2nd) 11.5 (5th) 16.5 (3rd) 4.5 1.5
149 1.5 19.0 (2nd) 25.0 (1st) 2.0 28.0 (1st) 17.5 (4th)
157 26.0 (1st) 1.0 23.0 (1st) 13.0 (6th) 27.0 (1st) DNQ
165 18.0 (2nd) 4.0 21.0 (1st) 1.5 23.0 (1st) 0.0
174 17.0 (2nd) 1.0 20.5 (2nd) 14.0 (5th) 22.5 (1st) 17.0 (2nd)
184 3.5 17.5 (3rd) 23.0 (1st) 18.5 (2nd) 27.5 (1st) 13.5 (5th)
197 27.0 (1st) 19.0 (2nd) 9.5 (7th) 13.5 (4th) 4.0 18.5 (3rd)
HWT 24.0 (1st) 1.5 8.5 (7th) 22.5 (1st) 10.0 (5th) 24.0 (1st)
TOTAL 137.5 96.5 141.5 133.5 146.5 110.0
Top-8 7 5 8 8 6 6
Finals 5 3 5 2 5 2

In all three years, Penn State fielded at least as many All Americans as did Ohio State, but advanced close to twice as many of them past the Blood Round and into the finals. When a team is averaging five NCAA finalists a year, they're going to be pretty tough to unseat.

The gap between the two teams was narrowest in 2018, with Penn State averaging only 0.8 points per wrestler more than Ohio State - the equivalent of Penn State averaging one more major decision per wrestler, or advancing one round further per wrestler.

The gap between the teams was the widest this year that it had been since the third-place finish of 2016, due mostly to the additional placement points earned by Penn State's finalists: their top 5 wrestlers averaged 22.4 team points, while Ohio State's top 5 averaged 17.7. Even so, Penn State's also-rans ran better than did the Buckeyes; Sanderson's bottom five – counting 0 points at 125 since they did not qualify a wrestler at that weight – averaged 5.3 points to Ohio State's 1.6.

The Road Ahead

Plain and simple, Ohio State needs more men wrestling in the final round of the tournament to catch their rivals to the East.

With Penn State graduating a couple of multi-year champions the path becomes a little less daunting, though Ohio State also graduates a four-time All American in Myles Martin and two three-time All Americans in Joey McKenna and Micah Jordan. What might a 2019-2020 Buckeye roster look like?

Wt Incumbent Redshirts & Incoming Freshman Comments
125 Malik Heinselman
- Record: 24-11
Jacob Decatur (No. 51 Intermat) Heinselman had a tough true freshman season, but has
the talent needed to compete at a high level if he can
add some strength and size in the offseason.
133 Luke Pletcher
- 2X All American
- 2X NCAA 4th-Place
Jordan Decatur (No. 4 Intermat) Pletcher isn't going anywhere. He'll almost certainly finish
his career as a 3X All American and make some noise in
one of the most exciting classes in the sport this year.
141 Joey McKenna
- 3X All American
- NCAA Runner-up
Quinn Kinner (redshirt, Top 20 in 2018)
Dylan D'Emilio (incoming Top 25 recruit)
With McKenna's departure, Quinn Kinner is the top 141
on the current roster. Jordan Decatur and Dylan D'Emilio
are both potential true freshmen challengers.
149 Micah Jordan
- 3X All American
- NCAA Runner-up
Sammy Sasso (redshirt, Top 10 in 2018)
Jaden Mattox (redshirt, Top 5 in 2018)
Sammy Sasso feels like the early favorite to take this spot,
though Ke-Shawn Hayes could challenge him if he wants
to move back to from 157.
157 Ke-Shawn Hayes
- Record: 21-11
Elijah Cleary (redshirt sophomore) 149 and 157 will be an interesting situation that could 
mirror Hayes and Jordan this year with multiple men aiming
for 149 and one of them having to settle for 157.
165 Te'Shan Campbell
- Record: 23-8
Kaleb Romero (redshirt freshman)
Carson Kharchla (incoming Top 5 recruit)
Kaleb Romero wasn't ready for primetime this season,
and Tom Ryan moved Te'Shan Campbell back to 165.
With Campbell's graduation, Romero may be challenged
by one of the newest recruits, as Kharchla is blue chip as it gets.
174 Ethan Smith
- Record: 19-13
Rocky Jordan (redshirt, Top 30 in 2018) Kharchla could also challenge for the 174-pound spot, but
the most likely challenger to Smith's job is the third Jordan
brother to join the Ohio State program.
184 Myles Martin
- 4X All American
- 2016 NCAA Champ
Gavin Hoffman (redshirt, Top 10 in 2018) Hoffman is the heir apparent to Martin's mantle. The three-
time Penn. state champ is a former Cadet World Bronze
Medalist and was the No. 10 overall recruit of 2018.
197 Kollin Moore
- 3X All American
- NCAA Runner-up
Kevin Snyder (redshirt sophomore) Moore will make another run at an NCAA title, and likely
finish his career as a four-time All American.
HWT Chase Singletary
- Record: 21-9
Greg Kerkvliet (top recruit in the country) Kerkvliet is the undisputed top recruit of 2019. The former
Cadet World Champion will likely redshirt, but it would not
be a shock for him to challenge Singletary for a spot now.

Ohio State loses three incredibly successful wrestlers for a second year in a row. After graduating Kyle Snyder, Nathan Tomasello and Bo Jordan in 2018, the program says goodbye to Martin, McKenna and The Mongoose, leaving Kollin Moore and Luke Pletcher as the only returning All Americans on next year's roster.

For most programs, that would mean next season would be a rebuilding year without question, but Ohio State has signed nearly a dozen Top-50 recruits over the past two years, so the talent in the new Jennings Wrestling Facility will be plentiful. The starting lineup will be as young as it has been at any point in recent memory, but adding names like Kinner, Sasso, and Hoffman should keep fans excited for what's to come.

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