As Olympic gold medalist Kyle Snyder trained at the Ohio State wrestling facility Thursday, his former teammates welcomed the expectations Snyder has brought to the program.
Behind Snyder’s star power — with help four-time NCAA champion Logan Stieber, who finished his OSU career in 2015 — the Buckeyes have gained a certain celebrity as a dominant program. But they also lost wiggle room. If they don’t win every match, frustrated fans want to know why.
“There was a time when we were second (at the NCAA tournament) and there was tremendous excitement,” coach Tom Ryan said. “Last year, I was getting hate mail for second. And I loved that. I thought it was fantastic. It was, ‘You guys were favored to win and what happened?’ ”
What happened was that Penn State won the NCAA title by eight points over the Buckeyes, further inflaming a rivalry that has developed between the national powers.
The heat turns up again on Friday night when No. 1 Penn State visits No. 2 Ohio State in a Big Ten dual match at St. John Arena. The match, televised by the Big Ten Network, is expected to draw a large crowd, perhaps as many as 10,000, which is unusual for college wrestling.
In 2017, with Snyder wrestling as a senior after winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, 15,338 fans showed up at Value City Arena for a dual match between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.
“Kyle took us to a new level of success, but also a level of awareness,” Ryan said. “When you have an Olympic champion in your lineup, people are coming. We’re living on the residuals of that a little bit, and hopefully we can develop young people like him who people want to come and watch. I think we have a host of them in our lineup.”
Penn State (10-0, 6-0), which has won 55 consecutive dual matches, is slightly favored against the Buckeyes (9-1, 5-1), but the teams are so close that Ryan thinks the match could be decided by bonus points, as it was last season when the Nittany Lions rallied for a 19-18 win in State College.
Ohio State’s only loss came two weeks ago to Michigan, which lost to Penn State last week. The Nittany Lions have five wrestlers ranked in the top five by FloWrestling, including four at No. 1; the Buckeyes have four in the top four, including No. 1 Myles Martin at 184.
Most likely, the result will still hang in the balance when the marquee match rolls around at 197, with No. 2 Kollin Moore of Ohio State (13-0) wrestling No. 1 Bo Nickal (18-0).
“I’m doing some fine-tuning for stuff he does, but ultimately making sure what I’m doing is really crisp,” Moore said, adding that he welcomes the expectations that come with wrestling for the Buckeyes.
“We want people who want to win national titles. And we want to win the national title, no matter the circumstances,” he said.