THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
A runner-up finish at the NCAA Tournament last season raised expectations for the Ohio State wrestling team. From the outside, it appears it is living up to them. The sixth-ranked Buckeyes are 4-0 in dual matches.
But wrestlers and coaches feel they have been inconsistent and somewhat burdened by the pressure of reaching the new standard. Case in point: Ohio State trailed Kent State 15-13 on Sunday before wins from Lance Palmer (149 pounds) and Jason Johnstone (157) put the Buckeyes on top. That followed a close win over Edinboro and an 11th place finish at the Las Vegas Invitational in December.
“I think we’re perhaps suffering a little bit from a great finish, which brings high expectations, and whether the culture of our program is at that point (to handle them),” coach Tom Ryan said. “Are we a team that is truly fighting for a national championship? We’ll find out a little more this weekend.”
A better assessment comes today and Sunday when Ohio State competes at the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals at Northern Iowa. The Buckeyes open against the host team this morning. A win would pit them against No. 3 Cornell or Michigan.
Part of the Buckeyes’ problems has resulted from injuries. Mike Pucillo, the defending national champion at 184, has wrestled twice. Others, such as Dave Rella at 174, have missed matches and practices.
Weight management also has affected some wrestlers and sapped their energy going into matches.
“We’ve had a few letdowns in some weight classes in some dual meets, but other guys have stepped up and picked it up and won some big matches for us,” Pucillo said. “Now if we get all the people where we should be, we’ll be fine.”
Ohio State was in a similar situation last season going into the national duals. It is hoping for a similar result. The unseeded Buckeyes lost the opening match but won four in a row, including a win over No. 1 Penn State, to place fifth.
“The National Duals is when we really started to turn the corner,” Pucillo said. “Even though we lost our first match, we came back and beat some good teams.”
Ryan thinks the Buckeyes are headed in the right direction. Getting everyone healthy helps, and the Buckeyes should have all their starters in the lineup today.
More important, Ryan wants to see a competitive fire that has been lacking.
“We haven’t lost a dual meet, but I don’t think we’ve competed nearly with the intensity of a team that is truly fighting for a national championship,” he said. “I believe we have the guys to, but they need to take that step.”
Rella thinks Ohio State will this weekend.
“There is no reason we can’t (do well),” he said. “If we all go in there and wrestle to our capabilities, there’s no reason why we can’t win the national duals.”
By: Jeremy McLaughlin