By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahoma State University wrestler Chris Perry owns that title. The Stillwater grappler claimed the 174-pound title at the NCAA Championships in March with a 2-1 overtime win over No. 2 seed Matt Brown of Penn State.
Now, the senior wants to put two time in front of those words as in two-time national champion, and bring the team championship trophy to Stillwater for the first time since 2006. The Pokes finished second in the 2013 NCAA — three points behind champion Penn State.
The Cowboys started practice Oct. 10, and will open the season at 2 p.m. Sunday in Gallagher-Iba Arena against Bucknell.
Perry finds the challenge of defending his 174-pound national title exciting.
“It took a lot of pressure off me, finally getting one. Now, I’ve got the opportunity to go win another one. It can only look better from here on out,” Perry said.
The 174-pounder also wants to uphold a family tradition.
His uncle is his coach. John Smith is considered one of the best collegiate wrestlers of all time. Smith owns six world championships and two Olympic titles. His uncle, Pat Smith, was the first wrestler to earn four NCAA individual titles. His brother, Mark Perry Jr., is a two-time national champ. His father, Mark, is a two-time All-American. Two more uncles, Lee Roy and Mark Smith are three-time All-Americans.
Perry said he enjoys the family tradition, but doesn’t feel pressure to live up to expectations.
“I love the sport. I just have fun with it and wrestle for who I am,” he said.
Perry has grown on and off the mat, the Cowboys coach said.
International competition this summer in Armenia and Poland helped prepare Perry for the upcoming collegiate season. He earned bronze medals at both events.
“When he got back, I felt he was a better wrestler because he got to see some really good wrestlers. He got to wrestle some of the best wrestlers in the world and was very competitive,” Smith said. “He won some matches and lost close by points. That builds confidence.”
The tour helped Perry assess his status against world competition. He learned he can compete against the world’s best.
“I’m right there,” Perry said. “I could put on some size. I was up 10 pounds from what I wrestled in college. ... (College wrestlers) are good but they aren’t at that level. If I can wrestle at that level, it gives me the confidence to go out every time. I’m one of the best guys in the world. It gives me the confidence to start dominating more.”
Perry compiled a 36-2 record en route to the 2013 NCAA title. The international competition increased his confidence, but the 174-pound weight class is one of the toughest in the NCAA.
The latest InterMat NCAA Division I rankings don’t have Perry rated No. 1 at his weight. That honor goes to University of Oklahoma wrestler Andrew Howe. Brown, Perry’s foe for the NCAA title, is ranked No. 3. Nebraska’s Robert Kokesh and Minnesota’s Logan Storley round out the top five.
Perry will face the top wrestlers early this season. The Pokes travel to Norman for a Dec. 1 bedlam battle with OU. They host Minnesota in a Dec. 8 dual. OSU will travel to Penn State for a dual on Feb. 16. He anticipates a rematch with Brown.
“Andrew’s a good wrestler,” Perry said. “He has been in the Olympic Trial finals, the national finals. He has won a national title. He’s good man. He’s a good opponent. I’m excited about it. It motivates me even more.”
Perry said the first semester will be tough. “I go from Howe to Storley back-to-back. I’m one of those guys that needs to prepare to a top level right out of the gate. I’m going to have my hands full.”