Oklahoma State wrestling begins hunt for 35th title

The Oklahoma State wrestling team concluded their first practice of the 2016-17 season on Monday at Gallagher-Iba Arena. As usual under head coach and American wrestling legend John Smith, the Cowboys look to win their 35th national championship.

“It was a good day, Smith said. “It was fun. It was really enjoyable. We had a tough practice. I saw a few things that I didn’t like and saw some things I did like. I think that’s pretty normal for this time of year. I don’t think there is any coach in any sport that is too pleased with what they see (this early), but I see a lot of hope and that gets me excited and motivated.”

A year never goes by without the Oklahoma State wrestling team starting out on top of the rankings. This year, InterMat ranked the Cowboys at No. 1 in both their dual and tournament team preseason rankings.

Oklahoma State’s best wrestler from last year, Alex Dieringer, graduated after winning his third straight national championship but the team is still loaded. The Cowboys go into the new season with eight wrestlers ranked in the Top 10 of their respective weight classes, according to ASICS/FloWrestling. It will still be a season-long search for that next OSU superstar.

10414570_10153974069393754_5615088549965367344_n“In several polls we came out No. 1. Anywhere from one to three,” Smith said. “That’s probably about where we are. The majority of our guys are (ranked) between No. 5 and No. 12 (individually). You know in the end, you have to shrink that down. No. 5 to No. 12 isn’t a lot of points in the end, so we need to move some guys into super star status a little bit. We are missing that Alex Dieringer coming that at you look at saying, ‘It’s going to be hard to beat this guy.’ I don’t know that we have anyone that you look at that’s going to be hard to beat. Hopefully we develop a couple of those guys that kind of give us a kick start, someone to follow and lead the way in how we want to compete.”

Dean Heil, coming off a national championship last season, enters this season as the top ranked 141 pounder and one with the best chance to fill the superstar void. He was No. 1 throughout last season, compiling a 32-1 overall record as a sophomore with a dual record of 15-1. He claimed his second Big 12 title by defeating Seth Gross of South Dakota State in the finals, 5-3.

“It’s awesome having Dean Heil in the room and just getting to see a national champion go to work and see his leadership,” senior Nolan Boyd said. “Everything he does for those smaller weights just motivates us in the upper weights to know that somebody has to step up and be a leader up there too. He’s a leader by example and I think that’s more important than anything else.”

Three-time defending Big 12 Champion Anthony Collica enters his senior season at No. 4 in the 149 pound weight class. Collica earned All-America status in his third appearance at the NCAA Championships last season, finishing fourth.

12289729_10153803391048754_7737059874655984709_nHe will be taking on Lavion Mayes of Missouri at the 51st annual National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic, set for Saturday, Nov. 5 at Cleveland State University’s Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio. Collica is a native of Cleveland, where he won three high school state championships and went 170-14 overall.

Senior Kyle Crutchmer (No. 4 at 174 pounds) and redshirt freshman Kaid Brock (No. 7 ranking at 133 pounds) look to bounce back from injuries that cut their last season short. There’s a lot to look forward to from these two. Crutchmer was an All-American as a sophomore and Brock went 19-1 before his injury, which includes pinning returning NCAA champion and No. 2 Cody Brewer of Oklahoma in 42 seconds in his first dual appearance.

img_0617“They just need to get healthy and recognize that staying in position is so important in wrestling,” Smith said. “They need to make sure they stay intense. Intensity is so important in practice just to stay healthy. As we know, wrestling is pretty physical and demanding. I think that’s probably the case in any sport. Intensity always keeps you in good position. Those two guys just really need to stay focused on staying intense in practice.”

Smith’s son, Joe, enters his sophomore season ranked No. 3 in the 157-pound weight class. Smith didn’t disappoint during his freshman season, going 34-5 and winning a Big 12 title.

Preston Weigel enters at No. 6 in 197 pounds after claiming a Big 12 title in his freshman year. Senior Nolan Boyd enters at No. 5 in 184 pounds after going 33-8 en route to an All-American season. 165-pound redshirt sophomore Chandler Rogers also enters at No. 5 after posting a 28-9 record and qualifying for his first NCAA Tournament appearance.

12688142_10153974070568754_5328540643400551225_nWhile Smith doesn’t believe in premature starting lineups, he already has one in mind to start the season.

“You probably could name eight of them,” Smith said. “Sometimes you do a little injustice to the guys trying to compete for the spot and you announce that these are the 10. You just want to make sure that they know and respect that they have a shot at this. And they have a shot till someone proves it. I think we are pretty set on Kaid Brock at 133. There is a good chance that Joseph (Smith) is the guy at 157, Collica at 149, Boyd at 184 and that’s about it. The other six weights, I think, are pretty competitive. Let those athletes take an opportunity to take it.”

Oklahoma State officially starts their season against Bucknell at Miami, Okla., on Nov. 6. The Cowboy’s next duel meet will be at Minnesota on Nov. 27, with plenty of open invitational tournaments in between. Smith sees the Dec. 2 Bedlam duel against Oklahoma as the true start of the season.

“One thing with wrestling, the way I coach, is that the first of December you start figuring out who wants it and who is driving themselves, who’s hungry. It gives you a little better idea of what you have. Hopefully on December 1, I’m looking at 16 or 17 people who are eligible to wrestle and we have a solid team with some depth.”

Story and photos by Tony Capobianco

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