A year ago, Ohio State entered the NCAA championships with three wrestlers — Kyle Snyder, Nathan Tomasello and Bo Jordan — who became four-time All-Americans.
Coach Tom Ryan described his 2018 Buckeyes as “the best team that I’ve been on or coached,” yet even that team could not get past top-ranked Penn State to win a national title. Beginning Thursday in Pittsburgh, Ryan will try to navigate another national meet in which the top-ranked Nittany Lions are favored, this time without his three stalwarts, the first trio of teammates to become four-time All-Americans in NCAA history.
With three freshmen and only half of Ohio State’s 10 qualifiers receiving single-digit seedings, Ryan knows he will need his youngsters to exceed expectations and his top wrestlers to avoid early upsets.
“The key to us beating Penn State is going to be our studs doing what they’re capable of and some of our freshmen pushing deep into the tournament,” Ryan said. “Winning one match or two matches will not be enough. We’re going to need (the freshmen) on the podium.”
The only Ohio State wrestler with a chance to become a four-time All-American is Myles Martin, who will enter as the top seed at 184 pounds. Martin won the Big Ten championship two weeks ago after second-seeded Shakur Rasheed of Penn State was forced to medically forfeit.
Martin said it was weird to be handed the trophy after wrestling only two matches, but, he added, the walkover probably helped to keep his body fresh and ready for nationals.
“It’s whatever,” Martin said. “I’ll take the trophy. I don’t care.”
Martin, who as a freshman won a national title at 174 pounds and finished second the past two years, said he feels relaxed heading into the meet.
“I’m ready to wrestle,” he said.
Besides Martin, Ohio State also will need big performances from its second-seeded wrestlers — Joey McKenna (141 pounds), Micah Jordan (149) and Kollin Moore (197) — as well as fifth-seeded Luke Pletcher (133).
“I don’t think that four or five champs is an unfair thing to reach for,” Ryan said. “I think that’s very possible.”
Though Ohio State will be the only team in the nation to send wrestlers in all 10 weight classes, most enter as underdogs. Besides avoiding early losses, Ryan believes the Buckeyes might need bonus points to beat heavily favored Penn State, which eased past them by 35 points in the Big Ten meet.
Among the freshmen, Ryan said Ethan Smith, seeded 19th at 174 pounds, and Chase Singletary, seeded 16th at 285, have the ability to advance a few rounds in the tournament.
On Sunday, Ryan hosted his 10 qualifiers for dinner — spaghetti with red sauce and steak, with ice cream for dessert — and a movie, the documentary “Free Solo.” He wants his team to be relaxed, like Martin, heading to Pittsburgh.
Martin said the Buckeyes’ depth gives them a chance, especially if the younger wrestlers can overcome early nerves.
“Once guys start wrestling, I think that’ll go away,” Martin said. “They’ve been wrestling pretty much their whole lives. I don’t think nothing really should change here, and I think that’s how you should look at it.”