This weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska, many of the best wrestlers and teams in the country will be competing. The Big Ten is not only the best overall conference in NCAA wrestling, it is an elite without comparison. Five of the top seven teams in the country reside in the Big Ten. Only the ACC and Big 12 have more than one top-10 ranked team (two each). That’s nothing new, as the Big Ten have dominated college wrestling for what feels like decades. This conference tournament is literally the best of the best tournament.
Ohio State finished in fourth place in the Big Ten regular season standings, and if we’re being honest, that seems like a long shot to win the tag team title. That being said, they have a defending Big Ten champion and four top-4 seeds in this tournament. The eventual tag team champion is determined by an overall scoring system — placement, advancement and bonus points — so it’s not like the Buckeyes need their top four ranked wrestlers to appear or even win a match. championship. They just need points on the board from almost everyone – wins and pins, baby.
It will take a collective group effort, with most or all of the participants striving to their potential…and help from other teams, you got me. We’ll break it down class by class and highlight OSU’s top contenders to earn major points.
125 pounds – Malik Heinselman (#4)
125, like many others, is a loaded weight class. Michigan’s Nick Suriano and Penn State’s Drew Hildebrandt are the top two seeds here, and it seems people are under the impression that their eventual meeting in the Finals is a foregone conclusion.
Don’t sleep on Heinselman. He has already qualified three times for the NCAA and has just finished the regular season with his best WL record (16-3). He won’t earn a ton of bonus points at the Buckeyes (four major decisions combined, technical falls, pins), but he could work his way to a semifinal, which is exactly what he did last season.
149 pounds – Sammy Sasso (#1 seed)
This former top-5 overall rookie has had an incredible run at 149 over the past few years and will be looking to close out this season with at least another Big Ten title. Sasso took first place in this event last season and second in 2019-20. His biggest challenge might be not considering the NCAA championships.
Sasso was undefeated in conference this season, his only loss coming at the hands of Cornell’s Yianni Diakomihalis. After winning the Big Ten but falling in their NCAA championship game last year, he’s surely looking forward to a similar run in the playoffs in 2022. An NCAA championship is the only thing missing. his impressive curriculum vitae. He has to take care of his business in Lincoln first, and I believe he will.
165 lbs. – Carson Kharchla (#1 seed)
Kharchla has probably been chomping at the bit for this opportunity. The former Intermat Wrestler of the Year and consecutive Ohio State High School Champion started his career at Ohio State 16-0, wrestling untethered in 2019-20. He then suffered a torn ACL, which caused him to miss all of last season. He came back with a vengeance in 2021-22, compiling a 19-1 record. Kharchla also tied for first on the team (with Ethan Smith) with five major decisions, and led the Buckeyes with five technical falls.
Like Sasso, Kharchla went undefeated in the Big Ten this season – including a narrow win over three-time All-American and three-time Big Ten champion Alex Marinelli from Iowa. Kharchla also beat last year’s NCAA finalist Pitt’s Jake Wentzel. His only loss came at the Cliff Keen Invitational, and it was by one point, to the man who beat Wentzel for the NCAA title: Stanford’s Shane Griffith. The OSU 165-pounder held a lead in this game, but couldn’t hold out.
It’s hard to beat a great wrestler twice, and Iowa’s Marinelli is just that, but he’s never had to go through Kharchla before. 165 has the potential to be Ohio State’s weight class to lose over the next few years. Kharchla is a rising superstar, and this could be the first of many major tournament titles for him.
174 lbs. – Ethan Smith (#5 seed)
Smith is ranked 7and in the country, but 5and in his own conference… what!? I don’t know if 174 is the more busy weight class in the Big Ten, but it’s up there, and that’s why Smith has his work cut out for him. However, he’s a guy who made it to the finals and finished second last year. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him slip into the semi-finals.
184 pounds – Kaleb Romero (#3)
Romero started the season hampered by injury, but hit the ground running, compiling a 10-1 record. He’s another multiple-time NCAA qualifier, but also faces a stacked weight class. Penn State’s Aaron Brooks won a Big Ten title as a true freshman and repeated last year, before also winning the NCAA title. He’s looking to make a perfect 3-on-3 in the conference championships. Myles Amine is the second seed, ahead of Romero, and all he has done is win an Olympic bronze medal. So yes, Romero is against that. But he’s another guy I saw in the semi-finals, and he did bringing Amine into overtime earlier this season…
Other Ohio State competitors to watch:
133 pounds – Dylan Koontz (#14)
141 pounds – Dylan D’Emilio (#7)
157 lbs. – Bryce Hepner (#9 seed)
197 pounds – Gavin Hoffman (#9)
285 pounds – Tate Orndorff (#8 seed)
As mentioned earlier, Ohio State faces an uphill battle in this tournament. There are three elite programs ahead of them in the conference standings, and they’re all made up of great wrestlers. But don’t count those Buckeyes. Tom Ryan has won this tournament three times since 2015. He has some elite grapplers at his disposal, and he’s a talented group of veterans. Hoping the OSU can shock the wrestling world!