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OSU hopes to regain wrestling’s elite status

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Penn State’s wrestling team came into Stillwater three weeks ago and dominated Oklahoma State, 27-13, in a battle of unbeaten teams. The Cowboys rebounded to dominate the field in the Big 12 Championship tournament. Now, the Pokes hope to regain the elite status as national champions at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Scott Trade Center in St. Louis.

OSU hasn’t won a title since 2006, and since then Penn State has taken the lofty status of national champions in five of the last six years.

This year’s tournament begins at 11 a.m. today on ESPN 3, but Friday’s semifinals and Saturday’s finals will be aired on ESPN. And, the Nittany Lions are favored to win again, according to the experts at InterMat, an online wrestling publication. Seven of InterMat’s pundits predict PSU will take the title, and one picks the Cowboys will win.

Penn State enters the championship ranked atop the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll and OSU is second. The rankings were reversed before the Lions beat the Cowboys on February 19. O-State is the only team to have all 10 wrestlers qualify for the championships, and only one of the InterMat prognosticators pick an OSU wrestler to win an individual title—Dean Heil at 141 pounds. A few of the others pick Heil to place second, and some don’t have him listed in the finals (they only listed the final two wrestlers in each weight class).

The Brunswick, Ohio junior is defending champion and currently ranked No. 1 in the 141-pound class with a 27-0 record. Three grapplers are expected to challenge Heil—No. 2 Kevin Jack of North Carolina State (31-1), No. 3 Joey McKenna of Stanford (28-1) or No. 5 Anthony Ashnault of Rutgers (17-3).

“It’s been a good year for him, and it’s good to see him wrestle the way he did at the Big 12 Championships,” OSU coach John Smith said of Heil. “He picked up two falls at the Big 12 tournament and four takedowns in the finals against last year’s national finalist. He didn't have a fall all season, so does that mean that rolls over into the NCAA Championships? It just means that he better take that same focus into the NCAA Championships because this is a tough weight.”

Heil is one of 10 undefeated wrestlers in the tournament, and each weight class includes one unbeaten wrestler.

No other OSU wrestlers are picked to win a national championship, and only two others are predicted to make the finals: Kaid Brock is ranked third at 133 pounds, and the freshman from Stillwater is 25-2. Anthony Collica is ranked No. 2 at 149 pounds. The Solon, Ohio sophomore is 20-2 and lost to current No. 1 Zain Rutherford, 2-1, three weeks ago in Stillwater.

“Whatever you do at the end of the year isn't always a reflection of your season, but with wrestling, it pretty much is,” Smith explained. “You get to the NCAA Championships and your whole year is judged about how you perform at that tournament.”

Ohio State and Iowa are projected along with the Pokes to contend for the national championship. The Buckeyes enter the national tournament as the reigning Big Ten champions and the Hawkeyes finished third at the Big Ten Championships. Both teams have qualified nine wrestlers each.

The 18th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners are not expected to contend for any titles this year. Eight OU wrestlers will compete in the tournament including five who are ranked: No. 20 redshirt-freshman Christian Moody (17-11) at 125 pounds; No. 11 sophomore Davion Jeffries (19-13) at 149 pounds; No. 14 senior Clark Glass (22-6) at 157 pounds; No. 17 junior Yoanse Mejias (9-6) at 165 pounds; and No. 20 senior Brad Johnson (16-12).

The Sooners placed second in the Big 12 Championship behind Oklahoma State.

NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE

Thursday, March 16

11 a.m. – Session One (Eight Mats – Pigtails and First Round)
6 p.m. – Session Two (Eight Mats – Wrestleback Prelims and First Round; Championship Second Round and Consolation Round)

Friday, March 17

10 a.m. – Session Three (Eight Mats – Quarterfinals and Wrestlebacks)
6 p.m. – Session Four (Six Mats – Semifinals and Wrestlebacks)

Saturday, March 18

1 a.m. – Session Five (Three Mats – Wrestleback Semis and Medal Rounds)
7 p.m. – Session Six (One Mat – Finals and Awards)

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Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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