Wrestling Preview: No.3 Ohio State Faces Early Road Test at No. 15 Pittsburgh

By Andy Vance on November 15, 2019 at 10:30 am
Rocky Jordan: Back from the wilderness

After felling Stanford in the team's home opener, Ohio State's wrestling squad heads to the Steel City Friday for a dual versus the No. 15 Pittsburgh Panthers. Both teams are undefeated, and the meet features five ranked vs. ranked matches and 14 total competitors ranked in the Top 25 at their respective weights.

1-0, 0-0 ACC

3:00 P.M. – FRIDAY, NOV. 14


For the Buckeyes, the lineup will look at little different versus the Panthers than it did versus the Cardinal: Rocky Jordan, Gavin Hoffman and No. 11 Chase Singletary will each make their season debut as starters for Ohio State.

Singletary is a returning starter, of course, having missed the first weeks of collegiate action as a member of the U23 Men's Freestyle World Team wrestling earlier this month in Budapest. Jordan and Hoffman, on the other hand, were presumed starters heading into the season who faced some early adversity in early-season action.

Jordan, youngest brother of multi-year All Americans Bo and Micah, eked out a 2-1 decision in the tie-breaker round over teammate Kaleb Romero in the team's wrestle-offs, and then had a woeful showing at the Michigan State Open – a tournament Romero turned around and won in the same bracket.

Hoffman lost his wrestle-off match in a 5-4 decision versus teammate Zach Steiner, and like Romero had a poor outing in East Lansing.

Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan said Hoffman has a big opportunity Friday afternoon.

"184 is a big match, and we’re gonna go with Hoffman," Ryan said. "We wrestled Steiner against Stanford and he had a nice win. Steiner is a die-hard Buckeye and to get his first win against Stanford was awesome. But we’re gonna go with Hoffman against Pitt."

For his part, Hoffman is upbeat about the opportunity to earn the starting spot for the long-haul.

"Really excited to go out there and compete as hard as I can for seven minutes, back in my home state of Pennsylvania," Hoffman said. "These past few weeks have been really frustrating for me. I've been going through a lot, struggling with my wrestling, both on the wrestling side and the mental side of how I've been approaching my matches."

He said he's focused on "getting back to my old ways of wrestling," implementing his defense and scrambling more true to form after a tough stretch.

"That just wasn't me, I wasn't competing to the best of my ability," he said. "These past two weeks I've been working on wrestling where I'm the best...that's my scrambling." He said he is extremely comfortable in the scramble, putting his opponent in unfamiliar positions and finding advantage in their discomfort.

He'll face No. 11 Nino Bonaccorsi, a redshirt sophomore who went 21-8 on the season a year ago, qualifying for the NCAA tournament and finishing as runner-up at the ACC tournament. If he can make a strong showing on the road against a fringe-Top 10 opponent, it will go a long way to rekindling the excitement fans had for seeing the former blue-chip recruit cracking the lineup.

The Pittsburgh Panthers

Head Coach: Keith Gavin

Probable Matchups
125 No. 21 Malik Heinselman (4-3, So.) Louis Newell (2-2, r-Fr.)
133 No. 18 Quinn Kinner (5-2, r-Fr.) No. 4 Micky Phillippi (5-0, r-So.)
141 No. 1 Luke Pletcher (6-0, Sr.) No. 17 Cole Matthews (4-0, r-Fr.)
149 No. 6 Sammy Sasso (6-0, r-Fr.) Luke Kemerer (3-1, r-Fr.)
157 Elijah Cleary (2-2, r-Jr.) No. 10 Taleb Rahmani (3-2, r-Sr.)
165 No. 21 Ethan Smith (5-2, r-So.) No. 15 Jake Wentzel (4-0, r-Jr.)
174 Rocky Jordan (7-2, r-Fr.) Greg Harvey (4-2, r-Jr.)
184 Gavin Hoffman (5-2, r-Fr.) No. 11 Nino Bonaccorsi (4-1, r-So.)
197 No. 1 Kollin Moore (6-0, r-Sr.) No. 23 Kellan Stout (3-2, r-Sr.)
HWT No. 9 Chase Singletary (0-0, r-So.) No. 9 Demetrius Thomas (4-0, r-Sr.)

Friday marks the 22nd all-time meeting between the Buckeyes and Panthers in a dual meet, and first clash since 2012. Ohio State owns a 12-9 edge in the series dating back to 1950; this century, the Buckeyes own a 5-1 advantage.

Pitt won its first dual of season versus Campbell, Friday, Nov. 9, at the Fitzgerald Field House, corralling the Camels 28-6.

Although none of the current Panther starters have faced Ohio State, head coach Keith Gavin is quite familiar with the program. After winning an NCAA title and graduating from Pitt in 2008, Gavin focused on his freestyle career and trained at the Ohio Regional Training Center in Columbus starting in 2012.

"Keith was here for quite a few years in our Regional Training Center, made a world team here," Ryan said. "He’s a great coach."

Gavin's time in Columbus led to success at the international level including a runner-up finish at the 2010 and 2014 U.S. World Team Trials, and, in 2011, placing third at the World Team Trials and second at the Pan-American Games.
Overall Gavin was a member of the U.S. national team for over six years, placing third at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials before capturing the U.S. National Championship in 2013 and 2014.

Notable Matchups

Pittsburgh fields seven wrestlers ranked in the Top 20 by FloWrestling. Ohio State will start seven as well, as Jordan and Hoffman will have to earn their way back into the rankings.

Five of the 10 matches contested will feature ranked vs. ranked opponents, and almost every match on the docket presents a solid early-season test for the Buckeyes.

133 pounds: No. 18 Quinn Kinner vs. No. 4 Micky Phillippi

"The biggest match is ’33," Ryan said, previewing the meet. "Phillipi has a number of ways to beat you. He’s savvy, he’s tough, he’s really fit, good on top, good on bottom. He had a great match at Michigan State, so Quinn is looking to avenge that loss."

Kinner made the decision to drop down a class after losing the wrestle-off to now-No. 1 Luke Pletcher, and hasn't looked back. He told Eleven Warriors that he feels good despite "looking like skin and bones," according to senior captain Kollin Moore.

"We’re just looking for people to wrestle the whole time; we want our guys moving forward, scoring points the whole time," Ryan said, praising Kinner for how well he handled the cut down to 133 and the energy he showed in wrestling six matches at the Michigan State Open in his first outing at the lighter weight.

141 pounds: No. 1 Luke Pletcher vs. No. 17 Cole Matthews

In the Panthers' opener vs. Campbell, then-19th-ranked Matthews pinned No. 13 Josh Heil in 1:28. Pletcher has the clear upper hand versus his fellow Pennsylvania native, but Matthews showed he's not afraid to wrestle aggressive against higher-ranked opponents.

Being more aggressive is one thing Pletcher has continued to focus on building up to his senior campaign, but found himself in sudden victory versus a game Real Woods of Stanford last week.

"I've been there too many times," Pletcher said Thursday. "I don't like to be there; I was a little nervous in that situation, I wasn't in a good spot there, but I was able to pull it out."

285 pounds: No. 11 Chase Singletary vs. No. 9 Demetrius Thomas

Singletary returns to the lineup after missing the Michigan State Open and the Stanford dual due as he reacclimated to life as a heavyweight after training for the U23 World Championships at 97 kilograms. His first match back is no small matter, as Thomas is a stout senior and defending ACC Champion.

Versus Campbell, Thomas upset No. 7 Jere Heino in a 10-3 decision. Last year he finished 27-5 on the season with a 12-2 record at duals and 15-3 record at tournaments.

Buckeye Breakdown

There is little question this is a more formidable opponent for the Buckeyes than was Stanford. FloWrestling marked Ohio State's out-of-conference schedule as one of the 10 toughest in the country, and the toughest of any Big Ten team – teams like Pitt and Sunday opponent Virginia Tech are the reason why.

Ohio State should have a decided advantage in at least four matches, including 141 and 197 where the Buckeyes field the top-ranked man in the country. Sammy Sasso at 149 pounds and Malik Heinselman at 125 both face unranked opponents.

Pitt features the higher-ranked man in five matches, though Gavin Hoffman isn't a typical unranked opponent at 184 pounds. Should he and Jordan wrestle like the potential stars Ohio State thinks they should be, the meet could swing wildly in the Buckeyes' favor.

Elijah Cleary certainly has a shot to win at 157, as does Kinner at 133. Depending on how those two matches pan out, victory in the meet could well come down to a closely-matched heavyweight bought... or to bonus points, for that matter.

Action from Fitzgerald Field House kicks off at 3 p.m., with matches streaming live via ACCNX/WatchESPN.

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