Wrestle-offs Preview Ohio State's 100th Season: “An Unboxing of Talent”

By Andy Vance on October 24, 2019 at 11:04 pm
Covelli Arena

Ohio State has recruited extremely well in recent years, bringing in class after class of top-rated talent at seemingly every weight class. The story of the program's 100th season could be written in large part by some of the newest recruits, if Thursday night's wrestle-offs are any indication.

True freshmen Jordan Decatur and Carson Kharchla announced their presence by winning their respective matches, with Decatur earning a Major Decision over Dylan Koontz at 133 pounds and Kharchla earning a narrow decision over returning NCAA qualifier Ethan Smith at 165.

Both Decatur and Kharchla came to Ohio State with high expectations, so it's not surprising to see them making a case for a spot in Tom Ryan's starting lineup. Smith did yeoman's work in his debut a year ago, however, finishing the season 20-13 with five major decisions, a tech fall and a pin – and including five victories over Top-20 opponents – but it won't be a surprise to see Kharchla earn a spot given his tremendous upside.

True and redshirt freshmen will see action up and down the lineup this season.

"This year is going to be an unboxing of talent," one staff member told Eleven Warriors during the offseason, acknowledging the relative youth likely to make the roster.

Redshirt freshmen Sammy Sasso and Rocky Jordan also made their case for starting spots Thursday night, with Sasso landing the 20-7 major decision over Trey Grenier at 149 pounds, and Jordan besting returning starter Kaleb Romero with a 2-1 decision in the first tiebreaker period at 174.

Romero was a blue chip recruit himself as a four-time Ohio high school state champion, but had an up-and-down season in his redshirt freshman outing as a Buckeye, going just 11-6 a year ago. Jordan could snatch the spot if he performs well in open tournaments and impresses the staff in practice in the coming weeks.

Elder Statesmen

Senior captains Luke Pletcher and Kollin Moore held serve as expected in their respective matches. 

Pletcher moving up to 141 pounds after wrestling 133 last season opened the door for Decatur to enter the lineup at the lighter weight, but also means talented redshirt sophomore Quinn Kinner will need to wait another year to see his name called for a starting spot among a talented cohort of younger wrestlers.

Pletcher handled Kinner well in a 7-3 decision, while Moore treated true freshman Tyler Stein to a 19-4 tech fall to round out the evening's festivities at 197 pounds.

Matches were contested at only nine of 10 weights at the wrestle-offs, as Buckeye heavyweights Chase Singletary and Greg Kerkvliet are both in final preparations to represent Team USA in Budapest, Hungary at the 2019 U23 World Wrestling Championships, Oct. 28-Nov. 3.

Singletary will be the first Buckeye to take the mat at the tournament with 97 kg freestyle qualification rounds kicking off Oct. 28. Kerkvliet starts a day later as 125 kg action gets rolling on Oct. 29.

Brady Koontz, competing in Greco-Roman at 55 kg, will take the mats Nov. 1 in his qualification round matches.

Back on home soil, true sophomore Malik Heinselman won his wrestle-off bout at 125 pounds with a 7-2 decision over teammate Hunter Lucas. He started in the leadoff spot last season, going 24-11 and qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

Upset alert?

Handicappers watching at home may have expected to see redshirt freshman Gavin Hoffman make his claim for the open 184-pound spot. Hoffman was another top-shelf recruit biding his time and looking to make a splash this season... but redshirt sophomore Zach Steiner, a two-time Division III Ohio high school state champion, held Hoffman in check and earned a 5-4 decision.

Winning a wrestle-off match doesn't always mean winning the starting spot, necessarily. Ryan in previous years has referred to the matches as one "data point" he and his staff use in determining who puts the team in the best position to succeed at a given weight.

Hoffman may still earn his way into the lineup, in other words, as Chase Singletary did a year ago in a similar situation. But he will have to earn that spot, starting with open tournaments like the Michigan State Open next Saturday (Nov. 2).

Jaden Mattox, also a redshirt sophomore, dropped his match at 157 pounds to redshirt junior Elijah Cleary.

Cleary is a bit of a journeyman; a two-time Florida high school champion, he has an overall Ohio State record of 15-6 the past two seasons in open tournaments and a few duals. Mattox was a two-time Ohio high school champion and four-time finalist, as well as a two-time Flo National Champion.

What Now?

Plenty of questions still need to be answered in the days between now and Ohio State's season opener versus Stanford, Nov. 10 in Covelli Arena, including what happens at heavyweight, whether Ke-Shawn Hayes will wrestle at 149 or bump back up to 157, and whether Hoffman will make a strong case to take up Myles Martin's mantle at 184.

The team heads to East Lansing next weekend for the Michigan State Open, and dual-meet action gets underway for the 100th season of Ohio State wrestling the following Sunday.

Match Results: Wrestle-offs
Wt Results
125 Malik Heinselman, decision over Hunter Lucas (7-2)
133 Jordan Decatur, major decision over Dylan Koontz (13-4)
141 Luke Pletcher, decision over Quinn Kinner (7-3)
149 Sammy Sasso, major decision over Trey Grenier (20-7)
157 Elijah Cleary, decision over Jaden Mattox (4-2, TB1)
165 Carson Kharchla, decision over Ethan Smith (3-2)
174 Rocky Jordan, decision over Kaleb Romero (2-1, TB1)
184 Zach Steiner, decision over Gavin Hoffman (5-4)
197 Kollin Moore, victory by TECH FALL over Tyler Stein (19-4)
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