2023-24 Ohio State Wrestling

Ohio State 'Basking In Gift Of Enjoyment' After Overcoming Obstacles

Ohio State 'Basking In Gift Of Enjoyment' After Overcoming Obstacles

Tom Ryan's Ohio State wrestling team has dealt with some unexpected obstacles this season, but the Buckeyes are feeling good entering the postseason.

Feb 21, 2024 by Nick Corey
Ohio State 'Basking In Gift Of Enjoyment' After Overcoming Obstacles

Tom Ryan hasn’t had the Ohio State lineup he might have envisioned eight months ago, but his Buckeyes navigated their way through the dual season filled with unexpected obstacles. 

The Buckeyes lost returning NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso before the season started and returning All-Americans Carson Kharchla and Gavin Hoffman and returning national qualifier Paddy Gallagher suffered season-ending injuries as well. 

Nonetheless, Ryan leaned on some young fill-ins and Ohio State still went 15-2 in duals. 

“There are a few of these guys who are really stepping up,” the Ohio State coach said. “Anyone who has watched sports anytime in their life can see when someone is basking in the gift of enjoyment. When you see people wrestling freely, like Jesse (Mendez) has, like Dylan (D’Emilio) and (Nic) Bouzakis and (Nick) Feldman and some others have the past couple of weeks, that’s a good thing heading into the postseason.” 

Postseason Expectations, Injuries 

Losing Sasso, Kharchla, Hoffman and Gallagher was an unexpected blow to Ohio State’s hopes of competing for Big Ten and NCAA team titles in March. But as the postseason approaches, Ryan insists the goalposts never moved. 

Because they’re never explicitly declared.

“I don’t do that stuff,” Ryan said of establishing seasonal, team-placing goals. “There’s an unwritten understanding for anyone that competes at this level that winning a national title, being the best, is the standard, but it's nothing I set, nothing I write down.” 

Ryan didn’t hesitate when asked if this was an approach he’s always taken or one that’s evolved throughout his career. 

“I never did that stuff,” he said. “Winning nationals, winning the Big Ten tournament, that’s always the unwritten standard and we know that. But, we really don’t discuss it. I’ve never written down goals for seasons, like, ‘We need to finish in the top three,’ or whatever. We just don’t do that here; our staff doesn’t do that. The most important thing our staff needs to focus on, and what we do focus on, is improvement.”

For one who some might call a Dan Gable protege — Ryan wrestled for Gable at Iowa and has credited Gable with much of what molded him as a coach — some might be surprised. Gable’s legendary fire and reputation in desiring the top podium step in all he and his teams did is the stuff of wrestling lore.

“Our primary focus is wanting them to enjoy the ride,” Ryan said.  “Go build deep connections. Lean on each other. I think it can become somewhat debilitating to some degree to make it solely about achieving written-down, stated goals or expectations. 

“I try not to get caught up in what the world says about what a successful season is. I can’t get caught up in that. These guys know that I just want them to wrestle freely, enjoy the relationships they have here. But, as far as stating or writing down seasonal goals, I never did that. I think internally in my mind I’ll write things down, but I don’t share that with the team. 

“As a coach, you can't control winning. You can’t. And If that is the only end — winning this or that, placing this or that — if you don't meet those goals, then what? Was it a failure year? Every single one of these guys want to be All-Americans, want to be national champions. But if our staff’s focus is only on that and (the wrestlers) don't do it, when results overshadow the process, you can kind of lose yourself along the way. If performance defines them, then their self-worth absolutely depends on how they perform. So we’re just careful.”

Ryan emphasized his view isn’t a conveniently created one as a result of losing Sasso, Gallagher, Hoffman and Kharchla. 

“A team trophy is expected here every year,” he said. “No matter what — top four. We know that. That’s just the way it is and the way it should be here at Ohio State. That’s happened in half the years I’ve been here — 50 percent of the time. That’s happened while I’ve been here.

“I want them to feel like they’re never more alive than when they’re training and competing for Ohio State. That’s the goal. That happens when they are learning, and it happens when the enjoyment they’re getting while they are here is off the charts.”

Stieber's Transition To Coaching

Being one of college wrestling’s all-time greats commands immediate respect among other wrestlers. Being one of only five wrestlers to win four Division I NCAA titles does that for a guy. In wrestling circles, the name Logan Stieber commands respect.

Excelling at a certain sport, however, hasn’t always translated into being a great coach of the sport. It seems Stieber’s transition from competitor to coach has gone smoothly. 

“First off, Logan is trustworthy,” Ryan said. “He’s done it. He’s been there. If he shares something with you, it’s not gospel, but it’s close to it. There’s an immediate respect factor with that. The second thing is Logan has incredible emotional control. You need that as a coach. The capacity to not allow your emotions to spill over with a student-athlete. It’s hard to lead others when you can’t lead yourself. Logan has that. Logan has a strong belief system in how you carry yourself.

“There are certain areas where Logan’s a master from a skills standpoint. He’s a professional. He loves coaching. He loves the sport. He loves the program, and there’s no place he’d rather be. When you have that in your coaches, that adds up to a good environment.”

Ryan will even crack on himself as the least competitively credentialed wrestler on the staff.

“I always tell people that between Logan, (J) Jaggers and me, we have six NCAA titles,” he laughed.

Ryan, of course, isn’t fibbing. Along with Stieber’s four titles, Ohio State assistant Jaggers won a pair. 

Fun with Nic Bouzakis: 

Ohio State 133-pounder Nic Bouzakis was asked some anything-is-fair-game questions about his teammates. 

Best Pure Athlete on the Team: “Well, since (first-team All-Ohio high school quarterback Kaleb) Romero isn’t on the team anymore, I'll say Mendez or (Seth) Shumate. Mendez is a great runner and Shumate can throw anything accurately, whether it’s a football, baseball, anything. Definitely those two.”

Who’s the True Gentleman of the Team? “Definitely Nick Feldman. He’s just a good, good person, a guy of faith, just really nice. I’d let him marry my daughter if I had one his age.”

Who Has the Weirdest Habits? “Man, I think I have to put that on me. Whether it’s in the weight room or even living at home…yeah. Me.”

Besides Coach Jaggers, Who Knows the Most About Music/Different Bands? “Probably (Luke) Geog.”

Which Coach Thinks His Jokes Are Hilarious but They Really Aren’t That Funny? “(Laughing) That would be coach Ryan.”

Who’s Most Proud of His Hometown? “Hmmm…probably Andre Gonzales. California, the nice weather, all that. Yeah, I’m thinking Andre.”

If You Could Look Like Anyone on the Team, Who Would it Be? “(Laughing) Well, I actually think I’m the best looking, but if I have to choose someone besides myself, I’ll say Geog because of his height. I just want his height.”