Everybody on the planet can point to numerous things that the COVID-19 pandemic did to impact their lives but only a few people (literally) had the opportunity taken from them that Ohio State’s Luke Pletcher had.
After finishing fourth in the nation in his sophomore and junior years, Pletcher had proven to himself and the country that he was an elite talent at 141 pounds. As is always the case with wrestling, fourth place wasn’t good enough and Pletcher knew there was a lot of work to be done heading into his final season.
One more year, one more run.
Towards the end of the season, things were all going Pletcher’s way. The work was paying off and it was beginning to look like a very real possibility that Pletcher’s run at a national title was well within his reach.
Nothing in wrestling is a given, but if Pletcher could make it past Penn State’s Nick Lee, he would accomplish what he’d worked his whole life for.
“When we wrestled in the dual, I was undefeated and he beat me,” Pletcher said. “Three weeks later we wrestled again at the Big Ten Finals and I beat him. That was a pretty big story going into Nationals. I don’t want to say we were ‘far and away,’ but we were better than everybody else and kind of separating ourselves as the top two guys. I think myself and everybody else kind of wanted that match to happen again.”
The biggest run of his life was within arm’s reach and despite Lee putting a half to his undefeated season, it was all coming together for Pletcher. He won’t say he was just a few weeks away from a National Championship, but he was definitely confident.
“I feel like I figured some things out being able to wrestle him again and I remember making an in-match adjustment that kind of swayed the match more in my favor,” Pletcher said. “I felt like I was going to be able to replicate the things in the match again if we were able to wrestle in the finals or at any point in the tournament. I think he’s really good; I like watching him now and what he does, but I felt supremely confident.”
With the rubber match expected to take place at the 2020 National Championship, the worldwide pandemic hit and the NCAA shut down the season.
Most wrestlers were given a compensatory year of eligibility but, for some reason, the Ohio State senior didn’t make the cut.
“The reason that came out was that we wrestled a full season, excluding the National Championships and that was enough to say that counted as your year, I guess,” Pletcher said. “I don’t agree with it and it’s tough to see the other guys get a shot, but that’s something I can’t control.”
Pletcher carries the demeanor of a typical wrestler. In wrestling, there is no screaming for the ball, blaming the quarterback or watching a teammate fan on a power play opportunity. As wronged as he may feel about it, Pletcher would just as soon leave it in the past, as hard as that may be.
“Whether it’s COVID or NCAA, it doesn’t really matter,” Pletcher said. “It’s just the uneasy feeling I get when I think about it, so I try not to now. I have people ask me about it often, but you work your whole life to have four shots at it and you only get three. That’s the feeling that makes you mad. You either move on and don’t worry about it anymore or dwell on it your entire life and I chose to move on.”
He may not have a national title to his name and the fact that he had the opportunity taken from him as opposed to losing it on the mat doesn’t make it any easier.
Pletcher moved back to the Pittsburgh area after his NCAA career was declared over. These days, he works as a volunteer assistant for the University of Pittsburgh, watching his life transition from wrestler to coach.
The transition may have been a little more abrupt than he would have preferred, but a life in coaching is exactly where he wants to be. You can bet the house that Pletcher will be able to give his teams one hell of a pep talk about seizing every opportunity they have on the mat.
For all the good and the bad that have come his way thanks to the sport of wrestling, he doesn’t regret his choice of sport for one second.
“I just like wrestling,” Pletcher said. “Of course, I am [resentful] but, at the end of the day, it’s like, wrestling has helped me get so far in life and take me to places I probably wouldn’t have been able to go to. I wish I would have had the fair shake at four tries, but I didn’t. I’ve got to take it like a man and move on.”
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