Ranked No. 2 in nation, Latrobe grad Pletcher sets path toward national title
Prior to the start of the 2017-18 wrestling season, Ohio State sophomore Luke Pletcher set a pair of lofty goals. For the team objective, Pletcher aimed for the Buckeyes to win the NCAA championship. Individually, he strived to win the national title in the 133-pound weight class. Thus far, the Buckeyes have won all but one dual meet — a loss to No. 1 Penn State on Saturday — and Pletcher is undefeated in 22 matches.
Success on the mat is nothing new for Pletcher, who won three state titles and compiled a record of 166-5 at Latrobe. He was also part of an impressive run for the Wildcats, including a second-place finish in the PIAA team tournament when Pletcher was a sophomore in 2013-14.
“We had that successful team feeling. You want to win for something more than just you,” Pletcher said, reflecting on the Wildcats finishing as state runner-up to section foe Franklin Regional.
It was that experience for Latrobe, as well as wrestling against top competitors like Jason Nolf (Kittanning), Sam Krivus (Hempfield), Micky Phillippi (Derry), Josh Shields (Franklin Regional) and Josh Maruca (Franklin Regional) that made Pletcher the wrestler is he today.
“The group that came out of Western Pennsylvania, we've just been going to different clubs and wrestling each other three or four times a week for our whole lives,” he said. “If it wasn't for all of us in the same area, I don't know what would've happened.”
Pletcher, who was a consensus top-10 recruit nationally, and the top-rated wrestler in Pennsylvania, decided to continue his career in Columbus. As a freshman, he cracked the lineup at the 133- and 141-pound classes for the Buckeyes and compiled a record of 25-9. Wrestling at the heavier weight, Pletcher finished fourth at the Big Ten championship, and reached the Round of 16 at the NCAA championship.
This season, Pletcher has competed exclusively at 133 pounds, and his improvement has been remarkable. He's ranked by InterMat as the No. 2 wrestler in the weight class behind Seth Gross of South Dakota State.
Pletcher said he has improved slightly in every position since last season and has been focused on attacking more and building a lead, as opposed to being satisfied with winning close matches.
“I don't really do anything flashy. I just stay in good position and do the fundamentals pretty well, and I'm pretty hard to score on,” said Pletcher, who describes himself as a “very basic wrestler.”
When highlighting the moment that served as a catalyst to his successful season, Pletcher pointed to a victory in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. In the semifinals, Pletcher, who was ranked ninth at the time, squared off with Michigan's Stevan Micic, who was ranked No. 2. Pletcher prevailed in a 7-5 decision, and subsequently took first in the event.
“Even though I thought I could win and beat those kind of guys, actually doing it is a different thing,” Pletcher said.
“I think believing in myself a little bit more has helped me the most. I've had a whole year now to be in this system.”
He also credited his coaches, as well as his practice partners for helping him make great strides over the past year. Still, he realizes there's room for improvement, including focusing on getting out on bottom, attacking more frequently, and getting to his opponent's legs at a better rate.
If he's able to maintain his strengths and address those weaknesses over the next six weeks, there's a good chance Pletcher will be able to achieve at least one of his two goals: an individual title.
“I think it's within reach and something that's attainable for me this year,” he said.
Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.