By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Call it a home mat advantage or whatever, but when it comes to wrestling in the state of Oklahoma, Stillwater’s Joe Smith is nearly unbeatable.
Now, as the best of the best descend on Oklahoma City University’s Freede Center for the Junior National Duals, Smith will once again be tested in his home state.
“It’s always awesome wrestling at home,” Smith said. “Oklahoma City isn’t home but Oklahoma is. It’s a lot more relaxing knowing that you have to go down the street and wrestle. It’s not like you have to travel. There’s really no stress involved, you just show up and wrestle.”
Over the years Smith has traveled across the country wrestling everywhere from North Dakota to Florida for tournaments. Yet, there’s nothing quite like wrestling in his home state.
“My dad (Oklahoma State wrestling coach John Smith) and my whole family is from Del City, which is right down the road from where I’m wrestling,” Smith said. “They all come support me, so that’s great. All my uncles wrestled in this junior dual, so they’re all going to be there to support me. It’s just going to be really great and relaxing.”
A relaxing tournament wouldn’t exactly be the way most people would describe what Smith is about to go through. Wrestling against the best of the best in a state where his father’s wrestling program is king, that kind of pressure would make anybody crack.
Then again, most people aren’t Smith.
“You want to give (people) a good view of you and you want to wrestle well and compete the best you can,” Smith said. “You want to represent Oklahoma in front of your home crowd. When you’re at nationals, you’re up against the best of the best. You have to bring your A game and you have to go compete. Sometimes the pressure gets to you, but you just have to go out and wrestle.”
Even so, Smith is still human. At times he has succumbed to the pressure — most notably last high school season in the state finals, where he finished second.
But it’s out of losses like the one at state where Smith has grown — rededicating himself this summer to getting better and correcting those same mistakes that cost him a state title.
“I really looked at what I did and what I can do to fix how I lost,” Smith said. “I just worked on areas I need to work on to get better. I’ve really been working on just my conditioning level, my technique and improving everything.”
“You can take losses two ways. You can take them the bad way and get worse from it or you can take them the good way and used them as motivators. I take every loss as a motivator to see what I did wrong and just try to motivate myself to get better and not let that happen again.”
As if Smith needed any more motivation other than the finals loss — which continues to haunt the junior-to-be — he also comes into this tournament ranked a little lower than he expected to be.
And that could be bad news for anybody in his way.
“That’s the thing I love about nationals,” Smith said. “I’m not ranked the highest right now, but I’m going to go out there and show people what I got. I’m going to go out there, compete and show people that I’m the best. That’s how you have to think about it. You just have to go out and compete. If you don’t compete, you have no chance.”
That’s all Smith wants to do — compete at an elite level. Because in his mind, not only is Smith hoping to add to his extensive collection of trophies and medals, but he also knows that in these hot June afternoons in Oklahoma City, this is where his quest for a second state championship will begin.
“The summer wrestling is always a huge preparation for collegiate style during the season,” Smith said. “It always prepares you because you get a good look at a lot tougher competition than you do in your home state. You’re wrestling the best guys from each state. You aren’t just wrestling a bunch of random guys from your home state. It really does help prepare you because you are wrestling tougher guys, so once you get back into the normal season, you’re used to wrestling the best guys in the country. You hit the guys that aren’t so good and it really helps you.”