Had the NCAA Wrestling Championships taken place as scheduled, Kollin Moore and Luke Pletcher both have reason to believe they would have finished their Ohio State careers as national champions.
Ranked as the No. 1 seeds in each of their respective weight classes – Pletcher at 141 pounds and Moore at 197 – the two Buckeye seniors were both frontrunners to take the top spot on the podium entering the tournament. Moore hadn’t lost a single match all season, while Pletcher’s only loss of the year came at Penn State against No. 2 seed Nick Lee, who he later defeated in the Big Ten Championships.
Moore, who won his third career Big Ten championship earlier in March and finished second in voting for the Dan Hodge Trophy (wrestling’s equivalent to the Heisman), said he was “extremely confident” that he would cap his collegiate career by winning his first national title.
“I was wrestling the best I’ve ever been wrestling up to that point,” Moore said in a conference call on Wednesday. “I feel like I was the mentally toughest I’ve ever been. Just felt really good, really calm, just felt really prepared for nationals. So I’m very, very confident that I think me and Pletcher and (redshirt freshman Sammy) Sasso would have won, and the whole team, I just think we were ready to make a splash at nationals.”
Pletcher, who had finished fourth in each of the previous two NCAA tournaments, felt the same way Moore did.
“I felt like I was getting better each time that I wrestled,” Pletcher said. “Going into the tournament, I was as confident as I could have been. There was no doubt in my mind that Saturday night, my hand was gonna get raised. I think going into the national tournament, you should be confident that you’re gonna be the champ, no matter what the circumstances were.”
Unfortunately for Pletcher, Moore and every other wrestler who qualified for the tournament, the NCAA Championships were canceled before they ever began due to the coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, when the NCAA’s Division I Council ruled that winter sports athletes would not receive an additional year of eligibility, they were forced to accept that their college careers had ended without achieving their biggest goal – a goal they had both put themselves in prime position to achieve.
That said, both of them are trying to keep their disappointment in perspective. In a time of pandemic, Moore and Pletcher recognize there are many people dealing with far worse consequences than the cancellation of a wrestling tournament. And they also don’t want the disappointment of having that one tournament taken away from them to overshadow all the other memories from their Ohio State careers.
“Getting your hand raised is a big part of the sport, but I feel like that’s not why we wrestle. It’s not why we love wrestling,” Moore said. “So in a way, I think Luke and a lot of guys on our team accomplished what we want to do this year. I know we didn’t get that ultimate goal of getting your hand raised on Saturday night ... but I don’t have any regrets of what I did this season or how I trained.”
Both wrestlers said it helps to know there are many other athletes around the world, now that COVID-19 has brought sports to a halt everywhere, who are also dealing with the disappointment of having their seasons cut short. They aren’t the only ones who had the chance to win a championship taken away from them, so they don’t want to wallow in self-pity.
“Going into this year, I made peace with no matter what happened,” Pletcher said. “But I think now that we’ve had some time to let it sit in, I think the only way you can cope with it is knowing that you did everything possible. I made all the right decisions, I lived the right lifestyle, I worked as hard as I possibly could, and it stinks that you don’t get that chance but there’s a lot of people who didn’t get the chance either, and it’s just sometimes, life stinks. And you kind of gotta move on with it.”
“Getting your hand raised is a big part of the sport, but I feel like that’s not why we wrestle. It’s not why we love wrestling.”– Kollin Moore on coping with the NCAA Championship cancellation
From helping the Buckeyes to win back-to-back Big Ten team titles in 2017 and 2018 to being part of the first Ohio State team to wrestle in the Covelli Center this past season, Moore and Pletcher have many fond memories from their college careers to look back on. Even without national titles, both of them have rightfully earned their place among the program’s all-time greats, as Moore finishes his Ohio State career with an 110-11 record and Pletcher finishes with a career mark of 108-21.
And neither of them are done wrestling yet.
Moore has already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials, while Pletcher still hopes to earn his way into trials through a last-chance qualifier. Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Olympics themselves have now been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak, but Moore and Pletcher plan to keep training – though for now, they’re limited in where they can train – with hopes of representing their country and competing at the highest level.
“Continuing to have something to look forward to is nice,” Moore said. “I’m already qualified for the Olympic Trials, which is awesome, so that’s one less thing I have to worry about. So now, I can just kind of focus and get a little bit bigger too ‘cause my weight class for the Olympic Trials is 213 pounds. So trying to put on some good weight, some muscle mass, and just can’t wait to get back on the mat and get ready for it.”
For now, Pletcher and Moore can only do what they can to stay in shape while complying with stay-at-home orders and finishing up their Ohio State classes online. But they’re both determined to keep their wrestling careers going and compete again as soon as they can.
“Whether we got to compete (at NCAA Championships) or not, win or lose, I was going to have to figure out what was next,” Pletcher said. “And that next thing is to win a world title and an Olympic title, and continue giving back to wrestling.
“I just want to wrestle some more. I’m missing it a lot.”