Luke Pletcher recently defeated Stanford's Real Woods (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Eight pounds have made a world of difference for Ohio State's Luke Pletcher.
He's not only bigger and stronger.
But he's also setting a faster pace.
That was evident in his most recent match.
The top-ranked Pletcher used a relentless attack to score six takedowns in earning a 13-4 major decision over No. 18 Mitch Moore of Virginia Tech.
"It's really nice not having to worry about your weight as much -- it makes wrestling much more fun," said Pletcher, now 8-0 this season. "I can come into practice now and focus on getting better and improving instead of thinking about how much weight I need to lose. I feel so much better. My energy level is great in my matches. It feels good to wrestle a full seven minutes at a high pace."
Pletcher moves to 141 pounds for his senior season after placing fourth at the last two NCAA tournaments at 133 pounds. He reached the NCAA round of 16 as a true freshman at 141.
Luke Pletcher reached the NCAA semifinals last season before losing to Oklahoma State's Daton Fix (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
A strong, physical wrestler at 133, Pletcher will still be one of the most powerful athletes at 141 even though he's bumped up a division. He's scored bonus points in six of eight victories this season.
"Luke's energy level is so much better -- he looks great at 141," Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. "His attack rate is extremely high and he looks really powerful. He almost made the NCAA finals the last two years, so he's been in the thick of things. We thought he could win it the last three years and we feel that way again. He's a great leader for us and we're glad he's a Buckeye."
Pletcher climbed to the top of the national rankings after he knocked off previously No. 1 Dom Demas of Oklahoma 2-1 in overtime earlier this season.
"I'm excited about this season," Pletcher said. "Obviously, I would rather finish strong than start strong. But the season is off to a good start and I'm loving being at 141."
Pletcher works closely with Buckeye assistant coach J Jaggers, who won two NCAA titles for Ohio State at 141.
"Jaggers helps me a lot," Pletcher said. "He knows what I need to work on and he understands what I'm going through. He's good at looking at video and breaking everything down. He's been great for me. He obviously knows what it takes to win a national title."
Once his college career is completed, Pletcher will jump into freestyle wrestling full-time. He placed second at the U23 World Team Trials earlier this year.
"I really like freestyle," he said. "There are a lot of ways to score points and there is a lot of action. It's a more exciting style of wrestling. It's more suited to my style because I'm most comfortable wrestling on my feet."
Pletcher is part of a Buckeye team with a number of proven veterans along with some new faces in the starting lineup.
"We have a lot of young guys on our team, but they will continue to grow as the season goes along," he said. "You learn a lot every time you go out there to wrestle. We have a good team. I'm looking forward to see how everyone improves and progresses."
Luke Pletcher gets his hand raised after getting a win against Virginia Tech (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)
Pletcher's senior season coincides with the opening of Ohio State's sparkling new wrestling arena.
"I wish they would've had it three years ago," Pletcher said with a laugh. "It's a great venue. It gets really loud in there and it's pretty cool to wrestle in that atmosphere. It's a new environment and it's really fun for us to be in there."
Pletcher is one of two senior standouts for the Buckeyes. Returning NCAA runner-up Kollin Moore is ranked No. 1 nationally at 197 pounds.
"I love having Kollin on the team," Pletcher said. "We bounce ideas off each other. He's a good leader and he models the way. He has a great arsenal of moves and he's a great wrestler. We're both seniors who are trying to accomplish the same goal. We feed off each other and we're hungry to reach the top."
The formula for Pletcher to succeed at his final NCAA tournament is straightforward.
"I just need to stay aggressive and keep scoring more points," he said. "It's always a tough tournament and there will be some close matches. I just need to stay confident and keep working. And I need to keep improving. You can always get better."
Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.