Ohio State is the only NCAA wrestling program to beat out Penn State for a national title in the past eight years. And although OSU failed to top the Nittany Lions at Big Tens this year, the Buckeyes managed to send more wrestlers to the national championships than any other team in the country.
Ohio State is loaded from top to bottom with No. 1 Myles Martin leading the way at 184 with No. 2 Joey McKenna, Micah Jordan and Kollin Moore not far behind. Heavyweight Chase Singletary found his way to the national tournament after earning a wildcard spot, and he’ll join Malik Heinselman, Luke Pletcher, Ke-Shawn Hayes, Te’Shan Campbell and Ethan Smith to round out the Ohio State lineup in Pittsburgh.
The Division I championships will take place March 21-23 at the PPG Paints Arena.
Ohio State finished comfortably in second at the conference tournament, and, if everyone wrestles to seed, they’ll look for a similar finish at nationals. But Tom Ryan doesn’t train his athletes all year for second. He wants that top spot, and though Penn State holds a tight grip on the lead, the Buckeyes are hungry.
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The Buckeyes had eight All-Americans last year with Nathan Tomasello, Pletcher, McKenna, Micah Jordan, Bo Jordan, Martin, Moore and Kyle Snyder. With 10 athletes in the tournament this year, they could top that number, but the team isn't as deep in some of the same weight classes, making even eight All-Americans a challenge.
Here’s what you need to know about Ohio State’s lineup as the Buckeyes look for another historic performance at the NCAA wrestling championships.
Malik Heinselman is the youngest Buckeye in the tournament and will make his NCAA debut with his team in his corner.
If there is a way to experience your first NCAA tournament, it's with nine of your teammates behind you. True freshman Malik Heinselman earned the right to that experience after finishing ninth at the Big Ten tournament and punching his ticket to the national championships.
The Colorado native is one of 21 true freshman in this tournament, and after an injury to Ryan Millhof of Arizona State, Heinselman moved from the No. 26 seed to No. 25. He now draws No. 8 Vitali Arujau of Cornell instead of Princeton's Patrick Glory in the first round.
Arujau beat Heinselman in the Cornell-Ohio State dual right before the Big Ten tournament, but Heinselman held Arujau to a decision. The Cornell freshman is 26-2 on the year with his only losses coming against Glory and Charles Tucker. The loss to Tucker, who will represent the Big Red at 133 pounds this weekend, occurred at the Jonathan Kaloust Bearcat Open. Arujau will be a formidable opponent for the young Buckeye.
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Heinselman put up a fight in a competitive 125-pound weight class at the Big Ten tournament, beating Shane Metzler and Ethan Rotondo to book his automatic bid to nationals. He boasts a 23-9 record with losses on the season to Devin Schroder of Purdue, Elijah Oliver of Indiana, Arujau, Zeke Moisey of Nebraska, Drew Mattin of Michigan, RayVon Foley of Michigan State, Joey Melendez of North Carolina and the defending national champion Spencer Lee of Iowa. He also posted a loss against Liam Cronin of Indiana at the Ohio Intercollegiate Open.
Watch Heinselman battle Foley in the Ohio State-Michigan State dual:
His match with Arujau in the first round will be a fun one, and if he advances, he'll face the winner of Foley and No. 24 Rico Montoya of Northern Colorado. If he drops into the consolation bracket after the first round, Heinselman will take on the loser of that same dual.
This tournament will be a learning experience for Heinselman, and while any team points he can earn will certainly help the Buckeyes in the team race, the 2019 NCAA championships will offer him the experience he needs to come back next year and make a mark.
Luke Pletcher is one of five returning Ohio State All-Americans. He'll look for his second top-eight finish this weekend.
The 133-pound weight class is potentially one of the deepest in the country, and sitting in the middle of madness is Ohio State's Luke Pletcher, the 2019 Big Ten runner-up to Rutgers' Nick Suriano. Pletcher battled the Scarlet Knight senior in his Big Ten finals bout, holding Suriano to a 4-1 decision and fighting for the chance to stand on top of the podium. Now Pletcher will have another shot at another podium, and his draw as a No. 5 seed puts him in a great place to at least pick up another All-American honor.
The Ohio State junior returns to the tournament for the third time, having placed fourth in 2018 for his first top-eight finish. With a 23-5 record, he's a threat who's often overlooked simply due to the overwhelming amount of superstars on his team and at his weight.
Watch Pletcher's battle for the 133-pound Big Ten title against Suriano here:
Of Pletcher's five losses this year, all of them have come against opponents seeded in the top nine of the NCAA tournament. He picked up his first defeat to Micky Phillippi of Pittsburgh at Cliff Keen in November and then didn't lose again until Jan. 25 when he dropped 14-1 to Stevan Micic of Michigan, Pletcher's first major decision loss since last year's tournament.
He then took a tiebreaker loss to Penn State's Roman Bravo-Young at the Penn State-Ohio State dual and then another tiebreaker loss to Cornell's Tucker in the Cornell-Ohio State dual two weeks later. None of those defeats should give Pletcher concern as he heads to the Big Stage; his experience and body of work make him dangerous in this bracket.
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As the No. 5 seed, Pletcher will face Phillippi again the quarterfinals, if both win their first two matches. A win in this match would secure another All-American honor for the junior, while a loss would move him to the consolation where, if everyone wrestles to seed, he could potentially have to face Roman Bravo-Young again. Pletcher beat Bravo-Young in the Big Ten tournament 8-5 and comes into the national tournament with momentum, but in his competitive weight class, he'll need to pick up key wins late in the tournament to finish on the podium again.
Luke Pletcher snagged the No. 5 seed at 133 pounds. Takes on Kent State's Tim Rooney in Round One.— Ohio State Wrestling (@wrestlingbucks) March 13, 2019
Potential quarterfinals bout against No. 4 Mickey Phillipi (Pittsburgh) in front of the home crowd in PPG Paints Arena.#GoBucks pic.twitter.com/sM3L0Ww1FT
Expect Pletcher to make a run and be one of Ohio State's many All-Americans in the this tournament, but be wary that his weight class is one that screams of upset potential.
Joey McKenna and Micah Jordan hope to end their senior campaigns with first individual titles.
Senior captains and NCAA veterans Joey McKenna and Micah Jordan will aim to end their Ohio State careers with a title. Their journeys to the top at the biggest tournament in college wrestling won't be easy, but they could find their way to the first place spot on the podium with a series of quality wins and an upset in the finals.
The two Buckeyes both picked up No. 2 seeds for their respective weights, 141 and 149 pounds, and while they'll face dominant wrestlers in Yianni Diakomihalis and Anthony Ashnault if they wrestle to seed, these experienced Ohio State grapplers have a great chance of advancing to the finals and putting up a fight.
McKenna finished third in last year's tournament at 141 pounds in his junior campaign and third in 2016 while wrestling for Stanford. He picked up his fourth conference title at the Big Ten tournament this year after taking down Nebraska's Chad Red 9-2, and holds a 20-2 record, with his only losses coming against Diakomihalis and Penn State's Nick Lee.
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Like his 141-pound teammate, Jordan has also picked up his fair share of previous All-American honors and will aim to add one more in his last tournament as a Buckeye. He finished sixth last year at the NCAA tournament while wrestling at 157 pounds, but now that he's down at 149, he's an even biggest threat to the rest of his weight class.
The last time Jordan wrestled at 149 pounds at the NCAA tournament, he finished fourth, but he's expected to top that this year. Jordan's only two losses on the year have come against Ashnault, and both times the Buckeye senior kept the bout within four points.
Proud to be a Buckeye, really going to miss this! pic.twitter.com/PQFlfSdIPJ— Micah Jordan (@mongoose_mic) February 19, 2019
A four-year NCAA tournament qualifier, Jordan has one last shot to finish on top, and with his fellow senior by his side fighting for the same goal, this could be the year for Jordan. He dropped 8-6 to in the Big Ten finals to Ashnault, but Jordan battled all seven minutes and could flip the match this weekend. Nineteen of Jordan's 25 wins have come with bonus points, the greatest total of any athlete in his weight class, including Ashnault, who has 18 bonus point wins. He also has six falls and six technical falls, leading the weight class in the latter category.
Watch for Jordan and McKenna to put on a show through the early matches of the tournament and fight hard in the later rounds as they inch closer to the finals. One or both of these Buckeyes could leave Pittsburgh a national champ, and this tournament is all about upsets. Who will perform best when the lights are the brightest? The answer will be clear in just a few days.
Ke-Shawn Hayes, Te'Shan Campbell and Ethan Smith are looking for All-American honors.
Ke-Shawn Hayes, Te'Shan Campbell and Ethan Smith fill the middle weights for the Buckeyes in Pittsburgh, and these three athletes finished seventh, sixth and sixth respectively at the Big Ten tournament to secure their automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.
Campbell enters the tournament with the most experience of the three athletes, having qualified now for his fourth NCAA tournament. The 165-pound Pittsburgh native will wrestle as the No. 21 seed and will take on Ebed Jarrell of Drexel in his first bout.
Campbell comes into the championships with a 20-7 record, while Jarrell boasts a 22-4 record. A junior, Jarrell is making his tournament debut after placing fourth at the EIWAs, but he's never faced Campbell previously. The winner of this match faces the winner of the Chance Marsteller vs. Carson Brolsma dual, and the loser then drops down to the consolation bracket to face the loser of the previously mentioned match.
A No. 21 seed doesn't put Campbell in a great position, especially with Marsteller in bracket right above him, but a few upsets or a strong consolation run could keep his tournament run alive a little longer.
Smith, a fellow Pennsylvanian, will wrestle as the 19-seed in the 174-pound bracket during his first tournament appearance, putting him up against Kimball Bastian of Utah Valley in a competitive battle between two wrestlers with nearly identical records. Bastian holds 18 wins and 11 losses compared to Smith's 18-10 resume. Neither competitor has seen the podium in this tournament, but Bastian has one more year of tournament experience than Smith. The Utah Valley sophomore placed fourth in his conference compared to Smith's sixth, but previous performance doesn't matter when it comes to the battle at nationals.
The winner of this bout will face a tough bout against the winner of Zahid Valencia of Arizona State vs. Dean Sherry of Rider. Valencia won last year's 174-pound bracket at the national tournament but has taken losses to Penn State's Mark Hall and Missouri's Daniel Lewis this year to give him the No. 3 seed. That match will be a tough challenge for Smith or Bastian, and the bracket remains competitive on the top side in the consolation as well. Smith does not have an easy path to All-American status this year, but easy isn't what makes this tournament fun. If he can pull off some upsets, Smith could have an exciting tournament ahead of him.
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Ke-Shawn Hayes will represent the Buckeyes at 157 pounds after finishing seventh at the Big Ten at 157 over John Van Brill from Rutgers. On the smaller side of the 157-pounders in this tournament, Hayes is 20-7 on the year and tied for third in his weight with four technical falls, trailing only Larry Early, Alexander Klucker and Hayden Hidlay. He's also tied for third in falls with six at 157. Hayes has taken losses this year to top-seeded Jason Nolf, Tyler Berger, Ryan Deakin, Alec Pantaleo, Hayden Hidlay, Kaleb Young, Eric Barone and John Van Brill, with the only concerning losses coming against Barone and Van Brill as he chases All-American honors. Van Brill put up a strong Big Ten performance, and he's on the other side of the bracket from Hayes, so they will be unlikely to meet in the tournament again.
Hayes wrestled Nolf at the Ohio State-Penn State dual. Watch that match here:
If Hayes makes it to quarterfinals, he's going to need to beat Zac Carson of Ohio and the winner of Kaleb Young and Dan Reed. The first win shouldn't be a problem for the Ohio State junior, but the next match will be a battle and staying alive in the championship side of the bracket is no easy quest. Hayes has the best seed of the Ohio State middle weights, but an No. 11 is no guarantee. He needs a championship-level performance to stay alive, but All-American status is certainly within reach.
Myles Martin is the only wrestler with an individual title. He's in a good position to pick up another this year.
Myles Martin rolling with Kollin Moore. pic.twitter.com/rB2Fr4hyI9— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) March 8, 2019
We said it before the Big Ten tournament, and we'll say it again: Myles Martin owns 184 pounds. The 2016 NCAA champion enters with a perfect 20-0 record and has already beaten the No. 4, No. 5, No. 7 and No. 9-ranked athletes in the tournament this year. On his side of the bracket, he's also beaten American's Tanner Harvey and Purdue's Max Lyon in the 2018-2019 season.
The Buckeye senior won the Big Ten tournament after beating Lyon and Parker and then accepting a medical forfeit from Penn State's Shakur Rasheed. The Nittany Lion also boasts an undefeated record (18-0), but he has not wrested Martin at all this season, missing both his opportunities in the Ohio State-Penn State dual and the conference tournament.
The two could potentially face off in the national finals, but both will have to make it there first. Rasheed has a potentially more dangerous path to the Saturday night bout, as he has to escape Zack Zavatsky of Virginia Tech who has just three losses on the year. Zavatsky lost to Dean and Drew Foster (twice). Foster is also on Rasheed's side of the bracket.
Martin finished second in last year's tournament after an infamous pin from Bo Nickal ended the match earlier and gave Penn State the team victory. He'll aim to end the tournament a little differently this year and finish on top of the podium, just as he did in 2016.
Kollin Moore doesn't want to be second. But if he wants a title, he'll have to beat Bo Nickal.
Kollin Moore is solid. He's a tough, powerful, competitive 197-pounder ranked No. 2 in the country. Moore would potentially be the best athlete in this weight class and in as a good of position to win his bracket as Myles Martin if not for one problem: Bo Nickal.
The Penn State senior wreaked havoc on Martin in last year's championship, pinning the Buckeye on the biggest stage in college wrestling in the first period to win the team title. Now that's he's moved up to 197, Nickal is causing the same kind of damage to his opponents at the heavier weight. In the Ohio State-Penn State dual, Nickal ended his match against Moore in the Ohio State dual last month even quicker than he pinned Martin. Moore has just two losses on the year, both to Nickal, but he won't have to face the dominant wrestler until the finals, should he make it that far.
Kollin Moore and Bo Nickal battled for the Big Ten title this month. Watch the match here:
In last year's tournament, Moore fell to unranked Kyle Conel of Kent State in the first period of the quarterfinals and then lost to him again in the third-place match. Conel has stepped away from the sport this year and will not be in Moore's way, but he could still face challenges from No. 10 Tom Sleigh, No. 7 Jay Aiello, No. 6 Willie Miklus, and No. 4 Patrick Brucki, all in the top 10 and all on Moore's side of the bracket. Moore has not faced any of those athletes this year, but he did beat Brucki twice in 2018 by major decision.
The Ohio State junior finished fourth in last year's tournament and was third in 2017. Now he'll look for a higher finish in second, or, if he can pull off the upset of the year, first.
Chase Singletary could make a deep run with his wildcard bid.
Chase Singletary gave the Buckeyes their 10th bid with he picked up a wild card spot after missing out one of the seven automatic bids in the Big Ten tournament. The redshirt freshman is making is debut at the tournament as No. 16 seed, meaning he'll face Nebraska's No. 17 David Jensen in the first round.
The last time these two wrestled, Singletary pulled out the win 7-5, and if the Buckeye can repeat that performance, he'll advance to wrestle the winner of No. 1 Derek White and the winner of the pigtail match between No. 33 Brandon Ngati and No. 32 Antonio Pellusi. If White and Singletary both win their first match, this second round draw would not favor Singletary in any way.
The redshirt freshman has not faced the Oklahoma State Cowboy before in his career, but White has beat 28 of his opponents already this year, dropping only to No. 3 seeded Gable Steveson. This is a tough draw for Singletary should be beat Jensen, but dropping down to the consolation bracket wouldn't be a bad thing at this stage. He has a great shot to fight for All-American honors with a few upsets, and a podium finish for Singletary would be critical for Ohio State team points.
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How many of these 10 wrestlers can pick up All-American honors for the Buckeyes? That remains to be seen, but this lineup is certainly strong and could make some waves in Pittsburgh.