Ohio State Wrestling Find Groove in 36-6 Rout of Illini

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The identity the Ohio State wrestling team was looking for after stubbing its toe earlier this season has undergone a number of transformations.

Injuries have certainly played a part in some of the question marks that arisen. The mindset of the Buckeyes also seems to have taken on a new hue.

But over the last two weeks, it seems the new-look Buckeyes are beginning to take on the look of a team that could emerge as a challenger for lofty finishes come tournament time at season’s end.

Ohio State opened Big Ten competition with a convincing 36-6 win over visiting Illinois on Jan. 12 in front of 3,905 fans at the Covelli Center on the OSU campus. The win improved the Buckeyes to 9-1 in duals while the Illini fell to 3-4 overall in duals.

It was the fifth straight dual victory for the Buckeyes since suffering a 21-13 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 10 in Columbus in a match that may come back as a divining rod of sorts for OSU.

“Pittsburgh had a game plan … and they made that game plan work,” said Ohio State standout Nic Bouzakis, after posting one of OSU’s eight wins versus the Illini and improving to 17-5 on the season.

“It was an eye-opener and our whole team has changed,” he added about the loss to the Panthers.

Since then the Buckeyes reeled off three wins while picking up one of the team championships at the Collegiate Duals on Dec. 19 in Nashville, including a 21-20 win over No. 2 ranked N.C. State and adding a dramatic win over Cornell by that same score prior to opening conference action against Illinois.

Bouzakis said his performance at the Cliff Keen Invitational, in which the Buckeyes placed third, was a learning experience.

“I thought there was a match (in Las Vegas) that I should have won, but didn’t,” Bouzakis said. “Having a match like that makes you think ‘maybe, I’m not all that,’ and really humbles you.

“The last three matches I feel like I’ve gotten it right,” he added after posting a 9-4 decision over Tony Madrigal for his third straight win.

It seems the rest of the Buckeyes are following Bouzakis’ approach in recent weeks.

Luke Geog (197) and Nick Feldman (285), whose come-from-behind decision secured the win over Cornell in the closing seconds, both picked up technical falls as Ohio State jumped out to a 10-0 lead after the first two matches against the Illini. Brendan McCrone extended that lead to 16-0 when he needed just 83 seconds before pinning Justin Cardani at 125 pounds to set the tone.

Bouzakis’ win was followed by an impressive 12-2 major decision from teammate Jesse Mendez over Danny Pucino at 141 pounds provided OSU with a 23-0 lead at the intermission.

Illinois broke through when Kannon Webster eeked out a 4-1 decision over Dylan D’Emilio out of the break at 149 pounds. The Illini’s only other decision came at 174 pounds when No. 3 Edmond Ruth used riding time advantage to escape with a 2-1 decision over freshman Rocco Welsh.

After a scoreless first period, Welsh elected to begin in the down position to begin the second period. Ruth used that to his advantage.

Welsh managed to get to his feet numerous times in the period, but was unable to secure any points against the Illinois All-American.

“Overall, it was a good dual for (Welsh),” OSU coach Tom Ryan said. “There was a level of will and a belief that wasn’t there before … and I think he should us all with he could become.”

Ryan also praised Isaac Wilcox after he posted a 4-1 decision over Illinois’ Joe Roberts.

Wilcox has dropped to 157 pounds and filled the spot in the lineup previously held by redshirt sophomore Paddy Gallagher, who Ryan said appears to have been lost for the season because of an injury. Two other returning All-Americans are among five Buckeyes who are expected to miss the rest of the 2023-24 season because of injuries.

Ohio State returns to action Jan. 19 when the Buckeyes play host to Maryland. Illinois, meanwhile, returns home to entertain in-state rival Northwestern on Jan. 20 at Huff Hall.

The Big Ten tournament is scheduled for March 9-10 in College Park, Md. The national tournament will be held March 21-23 at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Mo.