By Aaron Tomich
St. John Arena once again will roll out the Block-O stamped mats, reveal new championship banners and welcome anticipating wrestling fans for the first time this season on Thursday night, when it hosts a bout between top-ranked teams.
The No. 4 Ohio State wrestling team will face off against the No. 5 Missouri Tigers at 7 p.m.
“I am excited to be back home,” said junior heavyweight Kyle Snyder. “Just the fans and being able to compete in front of your home crowd and see the people who really support you is always a big reason why I came back, and why I like to compete.”
A varsity debut is being made Thursday night, as Luke Pletcher, freshman at 141 pounds, had his redshirt status pulled and will replace redshirt sophomore Ke-Shawn Hayes, after an undisclosed injury put Hayes out of competition for the rest of the 2016-17 season.
OSU coach Tom Ryan has confidence in the newly called-up freshman before the dual match, looking into Pletcher’s future as a solid reason behind having him step up and compete earlier than expected.
“Luke’s ready to wrestle,” Ryan said. “He’s been working really hard, where he’s won his first two tournaments. So he’s ready to roll.”
Snyder anticipates a competitive match between wrestlers from both teams, noting the hype surrounding the top-ranked dual, headlined by two U.S. Olympians competing under one roof. Missouri’s J’den Cox, a senior at 197 lbs., who earned bronze in the 86-kg freestyle event at the 2016 Rio Olympics, whereas Snyder won gold in the 97-kg division.
“Missouri’s got a good team,” Snyder said. “Our team’s got a bunch of dudes who can wrestle hard and score a lot of points, so that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
The 197-pound bout between OSU redshirt freshman Kollin Moore and Missouri’s Olympian, Cox, was one of several matches Ryan highlighted on Tuesday. He also said redshirt freshman Jose Rodriguez will make the varsity start in the 125-pound match.
OSU won the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational over the weekend, but Ryan said there were still plenty of improvement to be made before wrestling against Missouri.
“We’re working quite a bit on defense to leg attacks,” Ryan said. “(Being on) bottom is a big issue for us, so heavy focus on getting out — we’ve struggled there a little bit.”
Snyder’s focus lies mostly with the team victory rather than reveling in individual achievement against a top-five opponent.
“I’m just going to wrestle, and I need to get bonus points,” Snyder said. “Maybe pin (his opponent), and we’ll see what happens.”