In the functional equivalent of a Friday Night News Dump, the Big Ten Conference released the 2021 wrestling schedule mid-afternoon on New Years Eve. With a truncated schedule featuring only in-conference matchups, each team will wrestle 9 dual meet matchups between Jan. 8 and the Big Ten Wrestling Championships March 6-7.
Ohio State kicks off its season on the road Jan. 17 for a tri-dual in Champaign versus Illinois and Wisconsin. The program will host just three home meets this season, hosting Rutgers and Michigan State during the final week of January, and welcoming Penn State for the final dual of the season Feb. 19.
"Looking at the national landscape you have No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 in the Big Ten, and we're going to face all of them," Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan told Eleven Warriors. "We're going to face Iowa, Penn State and Michigan, and along with us those are the top four schools in the country."
Ryan said the coaches gave the Big Ten office a set of "guiding principles" to consider in creating this year's schedule, including considerations like minimizing travel distance and expenses given the challenges of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said the Conference did a good job of taking those principles into account, citing the example of the use of tri-and quad-duals to give teams a good number of matches without having to drive to nine different venues.
The flip side of that coin, however, is that teams will be doing a lot of wrestling in a fairly short period of time.
"Our guys will get challenged," Ryan said. "We're going to have nine matches in 33 days. It's condensed. Some of the other teams will have an extra week because we're not going that first weekend [of the season], but we're just happy we're wrestling."
It's a much different schedule than the one the Buckeyes faced last season, when the team squared off against 15 opponents in dual meet action and entered a pair of invitational tournaments in the early season.
With no out-of-conference foes, no invitational tournaments and a third as many home meets, the team will have fewer opportunities for backups and underclassman to get much-needed experience. To combat that issue, the Conference is expected to allow teams to schedule additional matches at duals this season.
"One, if you're a backup, there are no events for you the entire year, and that's a concern from a mental standpoint," Ryan explained. "The other concern is if one of your starters should come down with an injury or COVID, you're down a man. So we're hoping to travel with 18-20 guys and our backups will get matches with other guys at the meet."
Ryan said teams will simply roll out two mats, with the starters wrestling the dual on one mat, and a second set of matches between the teams will take place on the other. Those additional matches will help with seeding at the Big Ten tournament as well, given the limited number of matches a wrestler will record this season.
"We're just happy to be wrestling"
Ohio State will kick off the season with wrestle-offs Jan. 9. Ryan said there will be a wrestle-off at every weight, but fans will be especially focused on the matches at 141, 174, 197 and heavyweight.
At 141, freshman phenom Anthony Echemendia will face off against four-time Ohio high school champ Dylan D'Emilio. The Echemendia hype is real, but D'Emilio may be one of the most underrated guys in the room, so this should be a good match regardless of who comes out on top.
Upperclassman Ethan Smith will move up a spot to 174 to challenge returning starter Kaleb Romero. Romero was a first-team All American last season and the No. 6 seed in the aborted NCAA Wrestling Championships.
Former heavyweight Chase Singletary will drop down to 197 as expected, where he will face former blue-chip recruit Gavin Hoffman. And then at heavyweight, offseason transfer and two-time NCAA qualifier Tate Orndorff, last season's NCAA No. 8 seed, will challenge Gas Tank Gary Traub.
While much about the upcoming season will be far from ideal, Ryan said he and his athletes are thrilled to have a chance to compete.
"We're just happy to be wrestling," he said. "We just want a chance to win a national title for these guys."
|SUN, JAN. 17||at ILLINOIS and WISCONSIN||Champaign, Ill.|
|SUN. JAN. 24||RUTGERS||COVELLI CENTER (COLUMBUS, OHIO)|
|FRI. JAN. 29||MICHIGAN STATE||COVELLI CENTER (COLUMBUS, OHIO)|
|SUN. JAN. 31||MARYLAND||College Park, Md.|
|SUN. FEB. 7||at IOWA and PURDUE||West Lafayette, Ind.|
|FRI. FEB. 12||at MICHIGAN||Ann Arbor, Mich.|
|FRI. FEB. 19||PENN STATE||COVELLI CENTER (COLUMBUS, OHIO)|
|MAR. 6-7||BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIPS||State College, Penn.|
|MAR. 19-21||NCAA WRESTLING CHAMPIONSHIPS||St. Louis, Mo.|