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Ohio State hosted its wrestle-offs Saturday, Jan. 9, at the Jennings Family Wrestling Facility in Columbus, giving the public a first look at what the Buckeye roster looks like for the coming season. The team contested 13 matches at 9 weights, showcasing a number of younger members of the team who will likely start on what is shaping up to be a fairly young lineup for head coach Tom Ryan.
Six returning starters from last year’s team held serve in their matches, including No. 1 Sammy Sasso at 149, No. 4 Kaleb Romero at 174, No. 9 Rocky Jordan at 184, No. 20 Malik Heinselman at 125, No. 22 Elijah Cleary at 157, and Jordan Decatur at 133. Additionally, No. 6 Tate Orndorff, the offseason transfer from Utah Valley, won his match versus fan favorite Gas Tank Gary Traub.
So what did we learn about the young Buckeyes?
Carson Kharchla Is Out
The biggest news of the day is the worst kind: superstar in waiting Carson Kharchla, ranked No. 15 in what may be the toughest class in the country, won’t be starting for the Buckeyes when they suit up at Illinois Sunday afternoon. Ohio State confirmed Sunday that he suffered an injury and that returning starter Ethan Smith will stay at 165 another season instead of bumping up to 174 to challenge Romero.
The program couldn’t provide specifics, but confirmed that Smith would stay at 165; he was the No. 12 seed to the 2020 NCAA Wrestling Championships and named a second-team All American by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.
Kharchla was a blue-chip recruit with an impeccable wrestling pedigree. He drew broad accolades last month after going 4-0 against senior level freestyle competition at the RTC Cup, and was slated No. 15 in the class in Flo’s most recent D1 rankings. Many observers saw him as a likely All-American given his abundant talent and technical skill.
Having someone with the talent and experience of Smith on the roster certainly helps soften the blow of losing a talent like Kharchla, but not seeing the redshirt freshman on the mat this season is a huge disappointment.
Don’t Sleep on Dylan D’Emilio
The most intrigue heading into the day’s matches was around the three-man round robin at 141 pounds. Three-time Ohio high school champ Dylan D’Emilio and fellow high school champ and 2018 Ironman winner J.D. Stickley squared off against heralded recruit Anthony Echemendia, the double Fargo champ from Cuba.
Expectations were high given the buzz around Echemendia and his obvious talent and physical gifts, but it was clear that the local talent came ready to assert their own aspirations at starting for the Buckeyes.
Stickley drew within a takedown of Echemendia in their match late before dropping a 9-6 decision. Stickley had a tougher go against D’Emilio, falling 9-4 to the redshirt freshman, setting up the tiebreaker between D’Emilio and Echemendia as the final bout of the event.
D’Emilio scored first, about a minute into the opening round, and his experience and proficiency as a folkstyle wrestler showed as he worked Echemendia over on top, racking up 2 minutes of riding time to close out the period. Although he wasn’t able to get the stout freshman turned for any back points, he clearly sucked a lot of energy out of his opponent in the effort. D’Emilio would escape quickly from bottom to open the second period, and Echemendia fired off a shot quickly, scoring his own takedown but opting to let his opponent escape fairly quickly, giving D’Emilio the 4-2 advantage.
The rest of the second period saw a lot of action, including several solid shot attempts that neither man could finish. Echemendia opted to go neutral to start the final frame, and blasted D’Emilio quickly to tie the score; Echemendia was able to eat into D’Emilio’s riding time advantage, but not enough to take the extra point off the board. D’Emilio’s escape plus the riding time bonus gave him the 6-4 victory, despite Echemendia having the edge in takedowns scored. D’Emilio’s proficiency on the mat, most especially that two minutes of riding time earned in the first period, was the difference maker in the match.
Echemendia wrestled a great match, and could well end up Ohio State’s starter yet, but Ohio State’s staff knows that D’Emilio has the potential to be a great one as well, and has the advantage of having had a year of seasoning in the Buckeye strength and conditioning program prior to Echemendia’s arrival.
Big Men Battles Showcase Ohio State’s Options
The bouts at 197 and 285 proved that Ohio State has a pair of excellent options at both weights. With Chase Singletary dropping down to 197 upon returning from last year’s season-ending injury and Tate Orndorff transferring to Columbus during the offseason, it might have appeared that those two would be the clear starters for Ryan and Company next week.
Blue-chipper Gavin Hoffman and living legend Gas Tank Gary Traub may have something to say about that.
At ’97, Hoffman looked extremely strong. Last season’s cut to 184 was clearly too much off the top for the Pennsylvania native, and although he did well in open tournaments as a heavyweight, 197 is clearly a much better fit for him in terms of mass and energy. He looked like he had spent plenty of time in the weight room during the pandemic, and his strength allowed him to finish a sudden-victory shot that gave him the 4-2 decision over Singletary.
For his part, Singletary still presents a unique challenge; he’s tall and long-limbed, and generally has pretty good leverage. He held off several Hoffman shot attempts and was able to ward off most of them. On the other hand, he didn’t muster nearly enough offense of his own; his No. 16 ranking in the class is indicative of his talent and previous accomplishments at Ohio State and in freestyle competition, but it isn’t hard to picture Hoffman winning this spot and having a great year for the Buckeyes.
At heavyweight, Orndorff vs. Traub was something of a throwback, with two big guys pushing each other around for the better part of seven minutes. A year ago, Orndorff would have had a clear size advantage over the Cincinnati native, but Traub put on 30 pounds of seemingly solid mass during the offseason in an effort to solidify his starting position. After two periods, Orndorff held the 1-0 lead with an escape from bottom the points scored; Traub would get out from under Orndorff in the third, but not before last season’s No. 8 seed was able to get enough riding time to secure the 2-1 decision.
It’s hard to say what the staff might do in this case; on the one hand it’s hard to picture sitting the No. 8 seed from last season’s tournament; you typically don’t bring in a transfer of that skill to see him ride the pine. But this year is a weird one, and Ohio State will be mindful of trying to get both guys eligible so they have options late when it comes time to make decisions about who goes to the Big Ten tournament, should COVID be an issue at any point along the way.
If I were to make a stab at predicting Sunday’s starting lineup for Ohio State vs. Illinois, I’d probably say it’ll go:
- 125 – No. 20 Malik Heinselman
- 133 – Jordan Decatur
- 141 – Dylan D’Emilio
- 149 – No. 1 Sammy Sasso
- 157 – Elijah Cleary
- 165 – Ethan Smith
- 174 – No. 4 Kaleb Romero
- 184 – No. 9 Rocky Jordan
- 197 – Gavin Hoffman
- HWT – No. 6 Tate Orndorff
…but seeing a different name at 141, 197 or HWT wouldn’t totally blow my mind, either.