Talk about starting the new year off on the right foot.
The Ohio State Buckeyes battled past Arizona State on Monday in front of 4,132 fans at the Covelli Center to pick up a crucial top-10 win and give the team a solid dose of momentum heading into the second semester. They were led by two-time All-American Luke Pletcher, who recorded a tech fall against Arizona State's No. 15 Josh Kramer.
True freshman Jordan Decatur, redshirt freshman Sammy Sasso, sophomore Kaleb Romero and senior Kollin Moore also recorded wins for Ohio State. The Buckeyes will face Rutgers on Jan. 10, but in the meantime, let's take a look back at some of the key takeaways from the win over the Sun Devils.
1. Luke Pletcher is a machine
Ohio State senior captain Luke Pletcher was one of two Buckeye wrestlers to earn the first "Black Shirt" on the team, an honor bestowed upon an athlete who demonstrates grit and effort. He showed why on Monday night.
Pletcher attacked Arizona State's Navonte Demisony non-stop, scoring repeatedly until he ended the match with a 19-4 tech fall. The win marks Pletcher's 15th on the year and his second tech fall of the season. He's also recorded a bonus percentage of 60.0, won the Cliff Keen Invitational and is currently ranked No. 1 in the country.
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The Big Ten has a number of ranked 141-pounders who could challenge Ohio State's scoring machine, but Monday's performance suggests that Pletcher is on a different level. His biggest test will likely come when he faces Nick Lee, a two-time Penn State All-American scheduled to welcome Pletcher to the Bryce-Jordan Center on Feb. 15.
2. New year, new lineup for the Buckeyes
The big news out of the Covelli Center was the pulling of freshman Jordan Decatur's redshirt and the freshman's subsequent win over No. 15 Josh Kramer of Arizona State at 133 pounds. The Buckeyes have Quinn Kinner at this weight for the first few duals before Dylan Koontz stepped in at the weight, but it's Decatur's time to shine.
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Decatur's debut has been highly anticipated by Buckeye fans since the young wrestler stepped on campus, and while he's wrestled in open tournaments, he hasn't had his starting lineup moment until Monday night. His win brings his overall record to 9-1 and immediately puts him at No. 16 in the rankings. Decatur is still young, but look for this scrappy athlete to be a force over the next several months.
3. The race for a team trophy at NCAAs is going to be wild
Ohio State’s win against Arizona State bumped the Buckeyes up from seventh to fifth, while the Sun Devils dropped from fourth to seventh with the loss. Penn State, last year’s national champion, sits in third behind Iowa and Nebraska. The Sun Devils beat Penn State earlier in the year to snap the Nittany Lions' 59-match winning streak and knock the defending champs from the top spot. But now that Ohio State has beaten Arizona State, the Buckeyes want a shot at the No. 1 team. The Hawkeyes still lead the country with all 14 first-place votes in the NWCA poll, but Ohio State will have a shot to take down this top-ranked squad team on Jan. 24 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Penn State will wrestle Iowa on Jan. 31, while Ohio State will face Penn State on Feb. 15.
Ohio State has finished in the top four at the NCAA tournament for the last five years, and there’s no doubt that the team would like to add more hardware to the trophy case. The NWCA rankings represent dual rankings, rather than tournament rankings, and if all ten guys in the Ohio State lineup can qualify for nationals like they did last year, the team could be a threat once again for a trophy finish.
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Standing in the way, of course, is Iowa, Nebraska and Penn State as well the fourth-ranked Hokies of Virginia Tech, who already beat Ohio State earlier this year. A top-four spot won’t be easy, but the production of Pletcher and Moore along with point-scorers like No. 6 Sammy Sasso, No. 9 Kaleb Romero, No. 13 Ethan Smith and No. 19 Gary Traub, this squad could be set to keep the trophy streak alive.