With Penn State standout Jason Nolf sidelined with injury last year, Ohio State came into Rec Hall looking for victory against the top-ranked Nittany Lion wrestlers. But some bonus points here and an upset there, and Penn State eked out a close 19-18 win.
Now that it’s time for Penn State to travel onto Ohio State’s turf on Friday, the Buckeyes won’t soon forget how last year felt.
“It was terribly painful,” head coach Tom Ryan said at his team’s media availability on Thursday. “Particularly when you’re in their house, their fans are warm and friendly. So it was a rough corner to be in at times.”
The crowd last year in Rec Hall was electric, erupting in applause so loud after Anthony Cassar upset then-No. 1 Kollin Moore at 197 pounds that the championship banners hanging from the rafters swayed back and forth. With Ohio State’s 13,276-seat St. John Arena expected to be nearly sold out, the Buckeyes are hoping to return the favor this year.
For Ryan, wrestling doesn’t get any better than that.
“The past eight or nine years, these two schools have won the national championship — they’ve won more than us — but I think the crowd speaks to the magnitude of the event,” he said. “As a little guy growing up, this is what you dream of as a wrestler, to be a part of an event like this.”
Moore, a junior this year, also has a little bit of a sour taste in his mouth from last year.
All Ohio State had to do after Joey McKenna beat Nick Lee at 141 pounds was to win the rest of the bouts in which they were favored. But Cassar, a backup at the time, got the best of Moore, and Kyle Snyder wasn’t able to pick up enough bonus points at heavyweight to take the dual for the Buckeyes.
“It sucked really bad,” Moore said on Thursday. “It is what it is. It happened, it sucked, but I’ve been over it the week after.”
Assuring reporters that he has long-since moved on from that disappointment, Moore took the time to address his next opponent —two-time national champ and Hodge Trophy frontrunner Bo Nickal.
Never having wrestled Nickal before, as the Nittany Lion was down at 184 pounds for the past two years, Moore consulted somebody who does know a thing or two about that — teammate Myles Martin. As one of only two guys to have ever beaten Nickal in college, and the only guy to have done it twice, Martin knows how to crack the code better than anyone.
Martin himself also has a little bit of motive for revenge — after giving up the pin to Nickal in the NCAA finals last year to clinch the title for the Nittany Lions.
“We’ve talked about the underhook position a little bit, just because he’s felt him and I’ve never felt Bo before,” Moore said. “But me and Myles wrestle so much differently ... so I haven’t asked him too much, because his tactics going into the match might be completely different from what I want to do.”
The bout at 197 pounds will be one of the biggest for the Buckeyes. With each team on paper favored in five out of 10 bouts, both teams are going to be looking for an upset to avoid having the match go down to bonus points. For Ohio State, 197 might be their best bet.
With the dual sure to go down to the wire, the fans will be going wild by the time Nickal and Moore take the mat.
For Nickal, a seasoned senior, a little noise doesn’t bother him.
“Trying to tune it out won’t really work, just because it’s a big atmosphere, and tuning it won’t really be effective,” he said. “So just embrace it.”