CLEVELAND — Nathan Tomasello is reveling in his role as hometown favorite at the NCAA wrestling championships.
Ohio State’s 125-pounder is from nearby Parma, and he is looking to finish his Buckeyes career the way he started it — as a national champion.
Tomasello, the No. 2 seed, won the NCAA championship as a redshirt freshman in 2015. The last two years he has had to settle for a pair of tough-luck third-place finishes in the NCAAs.
Based on Thursday’s first two rounds at Quicken Loans Arena, Tomasello looks primed to make a serious run at a second national title. He got his first pin of the season in his opening match against Stanford’s Gabe Townsell.
The senior followed that with an impressive second-round match. He was leading Arizona State’s Ryan Milhof 15-5 when Milhof defaulted with an injury.
“I love it right now,” Tomasello said after his pin. “I’m just enjoying my last tournament as an Ohio State Buckeye.”
Ohio State won 19 of 20 matches on Thursday to send nine wrestlers into today’s quarterfinals. The Buckeyes are in first place with 36 points. Penn State, which has six of the last seven titles — Ohio State’s in 2015 is the exception — is in second place with 28.5 points.
For Tomasello, the chance to wrestle near home is especially sweet because for a while it looked like he wouldn’t be able to wrestle at all this season. He injured his knee trying to qualify for the under-23 world team in October.
“I was eating a steak dinner with my family and my in-laws,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said, “when I got a call that not only did he not make the team but that he likely has a season-ending injury.”
The injury was believed to be an ACL tear. Tomasello saw a specialist, and then another. Each time, he was told the same thing.
But the ACL was later discovered to be only partially torn. After three months of diligent rehab, Tomasello returned.
“Everyone goes through setbacks,” he said. “When you do go through that, it shows character coming back from it. It definitely motivates me to bring all I have at nationals and finish my career the way I want to.”
Being in front of the home crowd makes it even more special. He received a loud ovation when introduced for his first match.
“It helped me just go after it,” Tomasello said. “I get to be the hometown boy.”
Particularly in the evening session, Tomasello’s victory seemed to spark the Buckeyes after a somewhat lethargic afternoon session by several wrestlers.
“There’s no question he’s the fireplug to the whole thing,” Ryan said. “To have Tomasello and Snyder as bookends, it’s a good thing.”
Snyder, of course, is Kyle Snyder, who rolled to easy victories in his opening matches. Snyder has lived with Tomasello, and though they’re at opposite ends of the weight spectrum, the heavyweight has immense respect for his roommate.
“Nate is as tough as they come,” Snyder said. “He works like an absolute animal. He is a little quieter than a lot of people, but his actions speak very loud to the type of person that he is and the type of example he wants to set. He’s an amazing teammate and friend.”