Wrestling: No. 11 Ohio State Holds Off Rutgers, 19-14, Despite Pair of Upsets

By Andy Vance on January 24, 2021 at 2:50 pm
Ohio State 19, Rutgers 14

Ohio State won its first home dual meet of the season, winning 6 of 10 bouts and defeating Rutgers 19-14 Sunday afternoon. The Buckeyes improved to 2-1 on the season, but have plenty to work on as the meet could have easily gone the other with the Scarlet Knights picking up a pair of upsets along the way.

Malik Heinselman, Sammy Sasso and Kaleb Romero remain undefeated on the season, each picking up their third win. No. 11 Tate Orndorff secured his first victory after going winless a week ago, and redshirt freshman Dylan D'Emilio fell to 0-2 after facing one of the toughest men in the country in his weight class.

The two matches that will really grate on the staff were the losses at 157 and 184. No. 25 Elijah Cleary may not be a world-beater, but he was in position to win his bout. Poor awareness led to Cleary giving up a late-period takedown in the second that kept Rutgers' Robert Kanniard in the match.

After scoring a reversal to jump out to a 5-3 lead late in the second, Cleary let Kanniard loose with just seconds on the clock. Kanniard's subsequent escape to start the third period knotted the score up at 5 each. Then Cleary couldn't finish his shot in the final 30 seconds of regulation, and Kanniard planted him with a blast double quickly in Sudden Victory.

Three bouts later, No. 8 Rockey Jordan dropped his second loss of the season when freshman John Poznanski outpaced him, consistently finding himself in better position to finish takedowns and put points on the board.

Jordan is not great on bottom, and it showed in this match as Poznanski worked him over on top at a couple of key points in the match. Leading 4-3 midway through the second period, Jordan shot a low single; Poznanski stuffed his head, and Jordan let him wriggle free and score the go-behind. Poznanski rode him out to take the 5-4 lead into the third.

Poznanski then escaped to extend his lead. Jordan came back shooting and scored to tie things up at 6 each, but let Poznanski loose to go for the win. It didn't work, as Poznanski scored another takedown and finished with a 9-6 decision.

Poznanski is a guy who is quickly making a name for himself after opening up 2-0 in Big Ten action; he's no scrub. But that's a match Ohio State expects a veteran like Jordan to win every week.

There's No Place Like Home

Covelli Center felt different than it did the last time the Buckeyes wrestled on their home mat — 350 days ago. That meet, a 28-10 drubbing of Northwestern, marked the fourth-consecutive sellout crowd of Covelli's inaugural season as the home of Ohio State's wrestling program.

This time? A smattering of athletes' family members, arena staffers, athletic department employees, and reporters covering the match. No raised mat, no floor seating, no light show or pyrotechnics.

Just wrestling.

Coming back home after an opening weekend road trip that saw the Buckeyes split a pair of duals with Illinois and Wisconsin highlighted the possibilities and weaknesses of this year's lineup.

"We looked a little rusty today,” head coach Tom Ryan said after last week's tri-dual. “We lost a number of matches late today and that’s a sign of rust and weight cutting. This was the time the guys were down to weight in nine months and we looked sluggish."

Those late-match losses gave a criminally-under-ranked Illinois the upper hand in an 18-15 battle in Champaign. Ryan said he was proud of the way his team came back in the second match, a 25-9 manhandling of a then-ranked Wisconsin squad.

Malik Heinselman, Sammy Sasso and Kaleb Romero were the only starters to win both their matches on the day, while transfer heavyweight Tate Orndorff was the only Buckeye to come back 0-2.

"Sometimes you learn some things when you deal with the pain of losing,” Ryan said. “Nobody likes to lose. We certainly didn’t go up there wanting to lose. But this shows us where we need to get better. Where we need to improve.”

Sunday's matches against Rutgers showed there are still some cracks in Ohio State's armor. They didn't lose nearly as many matches on conditioning this week; Jordan Decatur looked like he had enough energy against No. 6 Sammy Alvarez; Alvarez just outwrestled him. Dylan D'Emilio was a redshirt freshman facing the No. 4 man in the class; he got beat by a better guy.

But the team continues to struggle, by and large, on bottom. This has been a criticism the program has faced for quite a while and typically is a byproduct of recruiting guys who are freestyle phenoms rather than guys who make matwork their bread and butter. To some extent, it is what it is.

With a shortened season and no out-of-conference opponents, the improvements Ryan referenced will have to come relatively quickly for the Buckeyes to reach their ultimate goals in March.

Ready For the Good News?

Malik Heinselman and Kaleb Romero looked really good.

Heinselman is one of three undefeated Buckeye starters, and all three of his wins have come over guys who beat him in the regular season a year ago.

He looked like he was wrestling with a full head of steam at the Big Ten tournament last March, and the early returns suggest he's gotten stronger and is wrestling with a lot of confidence.

Romero had his way with Joseph Grello, knocking him out of his socks with a blast double early, and playing a little catch-and-release to extend his lead into major decision territory late. At the same time, he wrestled tough on top when he needed to, getting key rideouts rather than giving up escape points that would have cost him the major and the bonus point.

No. 1 Sammy Sasso was never in danger of giving up the match over Michael VanBrill, but the first period or so was a little wonky, with VanBrill getting the early takedown and holding a lead over the top-ranked man in the country for a while. Sasso eventually turned things on and did his thing, it just took him a minute to warm up.

Match Results: Ohio State 19, Rutgers 14
Wt Results OSU RU
125 No. 16 Malik Heinselman, decision over Nicolas Aguilar (10-4) 3 0
133 No. 6 Sammy Alvarez, major decision over Jordan Decatur (14-3) 3 4
141 No. 4 Sebastian Rivera, major decision over Dylan D'Emilio (11-2) 3 8
149 No. 1 Sammy Sasso, decision over Michael VanBrill (11-5) 6 8
157 Robert Kanniard, decision over No. 25 Elijah Cleary (7-5, SV1) 6 11
165 No. 11 Ethan Smith, decision over Brett Donner (10-3) 9 11
174 No. 4 Kaleb Romero, major decision over Joseph Grello (15-5) 13 11
184 John Poznanski, decision over No. 8 Rocky Jordan (9-6) 13 14
197 Gavin Hoffman, decision over Billy Janzer (3-2) 16 14
HWT No. 11 Tate Orndorff, decision over Christian Colucci (4-2) 19 14

Just two weeks into the season and Ohio State's dual meet schedule is one-third over. The Buckeyes host Michigan State in Covelli this Friday, Jan. 29; time and streaming info to be announced later.

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