Former Latrobe wrestler Smith tries to remain confident as NCAAs approach
It’s not that Ethan Smith lacks confidence in his abilities, or even that the Ohio State 174-pound wrestler intentionally is trying to keep a modest and unassuming mindset as a freshman.
But when Smith, a former standout at Latrobe, demurs from making boastful goals for the NCAA championships in Pittsburgh later this month, it’s a function of just how far he has come.
“I haven’t really put too much emphasis on the NCAAs,” said Smith, who competed for Latrobe from middle school through the early portion of his junior year of high school. “At the beginning of this season … there was even a little bit there where I didn’t even think I would be in this position I am.”
Smith, whose family is back living in the Latrobe area, and Ohio State teammate Te’Shan Campbell (Penn Hills) were, at one point, competing for superiority on the Buckeyes at 174 pounds. Campbell, a senior, was the far more accomplished collegiate wrestler, and Campbell beat Smith twice at the Ohio State wrestle-offs in October.
So even after Smith cemented his place in the Ohio State lineup — Campbell ended up settling in at 165 pounds — Smith learned not to take anything for granted.
“The biggest thing that I’ve struggled with in my wrestling career is just my mindset and confidence,” Smith said. “So I think I have improved the most on my mindset, just trying to get out of the shell of holding back and worrying about winning. Just win or lose, you just try to wrestle for a full 7 minutes.”
Smith has done that more often than not during his first full college season, going 15-8 as a redshirt freshman headed into the Big Ten championships this weekend. He is ranked No. 15 in the country at 174 pounds by intermatwrestle.com.
“Ethan just keeps getting better,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. “Ethan loves the sport. He has incredible movement and feel, he has a really good feel for the sport and great speed for the weight.
“He’s a super freshman.”
Smith spent the majority of his junior year and all of his senior year of high school in Maryland. Competing for Sparrows Point High School about a half hour east of Baltimore, Smith went 83-0 and won consecutive state championships.
Smith went 61-19 as a freshman and sophomore at Latrobe (according to pa-wrestling.com), placing third in WPIAL Class AAA and going 3-2 at the PIAA championships at 152 pounds in 2015. He still holds fond memories of his time competing for the Wildcats.
“All the relationships that I made while I was there, I still have today,” Smith said.
One of those relationships is with Luke Pletcher, his former and current teammate. Pletcher, a reigning All-American at 133 pounds, said he worked to persuade Smith to come to Ohio State.
“We had a good three years (in middle school and high school) where we were pretty close,” Pletcher said. “When he decided to come here (Ohio State), that was pretty sweet.”
Now, Smith’s away-from-college home is back in Latrobe. And the first NCAA championships in which he is eligible to compete? They are in Western Pennsylvania, too.
Being almost a certainty to be competing at PPG Paints Arena beginning March 21 wasn’t at the top of Smith’s mind early in his season.
“Whenever I lost the wrestle-off initially in the fall … that was really tough thing to get over,” he said. “But I found a way to do it, and I just came in and did the extra (work), and it just kept paying off. But my mindset as far as mapping out where I would be, I wanted to just keep getting better.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .