Unlock this article, live events, and more with a subscription!
Already a subscriber? Log In
Ohio State dropped its first loss of the season to a tough Virginia Tech squad that looked much better on the mats in Columbus than the rankings indicated.
Three duals into the season, the Buckeye roster still has more questions than answers, and head coach Tom Ryan said he and his staff are considering several lineup combinations with an eye toward putting points on the board in March, rather than focusing on winning duals in November.
“Everything's on the table,” Ryan said Sunday afternoon in the plush film room of his team’s brand-new Jennings Wrestling Facility. “This team has been too good for too long. This isn't a year to pull back — that's not our thing.”
Barely three weeks into the season, there are four spots clearly filled: No. 1 Luke Pletcher at 141, No. 1 Kollin Moore at 197, Sammy Sasso at 149 (more on him in a minute), and Chase Singletary at heavyweight. Ethan Smith’s upset of No. 4 David McFadden solidified his place as the man at 165 with Carson Kharchla redshirting, and Rocky Jordan fell well behind undefeated Kaleb Romero in the pecking order at 174 with a loss to an unranked Cody Hughes.
“If Rocky really poured it on, and Romero was struggling a bit, then you'd reassess,” Ryan explained. “But as of today, I think '74 is settled. And Rocky . . . we love Rock. You know Rock's a great wrestler, and he's just got to know that it's going to take some time to get back to the level of wrestling he's capable of.”
Ryan said that Jordan missing all last season with an injury proved to be a bigger issue than expected. Missing 30-40 matches at open tournaments hurt his development, timing, and conditioning. Romero, on the other hand, now in the second season starting matches, finds himself 7-0 and ranked in the top 20 of his new weight class.
The Ballad of Ke-Shawn Hayes
That leaves 157 as the obvious hole in the middle of the lineup. Elijah Cleary finds himself on the wrong side of .500 after dropping a pair of decisions over the weekend’s duals, raising the question once again: Where is Ke-Shawn Hayes?
The fifth-year senior from Kansas City has been conspicuously absent since the 149-pound spot went to Sasso. Odds are that he’ll reappear after Thanksgiving when the Buckeyes are back in action versus Cornell.
“Hayes is healing up, so at '57 he will be looking to move back in there,” Ryan said. “That's the likely plan, let's get Hayes up to 160 . . . there won't a wrestle-off at '49, Hayes now knows it's time to move up to '57.”
Ryan acknowledged that Hayes has been bounced around from weight to weight over his time in scarlet and gray, as he’s been bested by more-talented teammates after an injury ended his redshirt freshman campaign. Micah Jordan, Joey McKenna, and now Sammy Sasso each took a turn at a spot Hayes would have preferred, each time keeping him from what would have likely been his ideal weight.
“Listen, sometimes things aren't ideal,” Ryan continued. “So, get up to 162, be strong as an ox — we can't look back and say, well, ‘I'm not big enough, I'm not this, I'm not that.’ No. Focus on the things you can control.”
Hayes has been an integral component of the lineup for several seasons; Ryan noted that he was a takedown away from the quarterfinals in 2018, a placement that could have given Ryan’s Buckeyes another NCAA title instead of another runner-up finish.
At 133, Quinn Kinner needed to manage some manner of offense Sunday, but outside of something really crazy (like dropping Luke Pletcher back down to 133 and plugging incoming signee Anthony Echemendia into the lineup at 141), the spot is Kinner’s to lose. If Jordan Decatur sheds his redshirt, it seems far more likely that he would do so to relieve Malik Heinselman, who continues to struggle at 125, week in and week out.
Gavin Hoffman and Zach Steiner will continue to trade reps until one of the two separates himself and earns the spot. Hoffman is the more highly-touted recruit, but the unheralded Steiner has performed every bit as well to date, winning his first match of the season versus Stanford and dropping his first Sunday against the Hokies.
“Hoffman wrestled against Pitt; he's mad he didn't get to wrestle [Sunday],” Ryan said. “We just want to be fair. We're going to use logic, and we're going to be fair. And right now, the most fair thing to do was to give them each opportunities.”
The NCAA Wrestling Championships are barely 120 days away, but for the Buckeyes, that is all the more to the good. With two weeks until the team is back in dual-meet action, they may look at 120 different lineup combinations until they unlock the one that puts the most points on the board in Minneapolis.
*An earlier version of this article indicated that Ke-Shawn Hayes lost a wrestle-off to Sammy Sasso. Although Sasso won the wrestle-off at 149 pounds, Hayes did not compete in the team’s wrestle-off event.
Andy Vance is a Columbus-based journalist who covers the Ohio State University wrestling program for Eleven Warriors, the largest independent sports site on the internet for Ohio State news, analysis, and community. He is co-host of the site’s Eleven Dubcast podcast. Follow him on Twitter @AndyVance