By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
After having to earn its way into the National Duals Finals — instead of earning one of the four automatic bids — the Oklahoma State University wrestling team will be the top seed at the weekend event in Minneapolis, Minn.
The top-ranked Cowboys will face one of the teams to earn a bye, with Illinois, ranked eighth in the nation, getting the eighth seed. The two teams will wrestle at 6 p.m. Friday with the winner advancing to Saturday’s semifinals at 1 p.m., with the championship match being held at 7 p.m.
“I guess that was a question for everybody on the team, ‘Why are we ranked No. 1 and we still don’t get a bye to the finals,’” OSU senior Jordan Oliver said.
It may not make sense, but it may be for the better for the Cowboys.
“It shouldn’t be a disadvantage to us, we should be ready,” OSU coach John Smith said. “... Not competing doesn’t help you. Getting on the mat each and every week and making weight is critical.”
Oliver also views having to wrestle the first weekend as a way to build momentum, as well as motivation.
“I think it helped us build on some stuff and critique things that we saw that we had a problem with, so by no means was it a negative having to wrestle last weekend,” the Cowboy senior said. “It’s always motivating when we’re looked at, even as an underdog going into this. The past two years we were favored to win it and we didn’t get the job done. So coming in this year and having to wrestle to get into the finals is definitely a motivator and definitely puts some fire under us.”
The tournament poses several intriguing possible matchups for OSU.
The Cowboys clipped the Fighting Illini in the semifinals of last year’s NWCA duals before losing to Minnesota in the championship dual at Gallagher-Iba Arena. The Golden Gophers are the No. 3 seed, and could possibly be OSU’s matchup in the finals again — which will be a rematch of an early-season dual the Cowboys won 22-15 in Minnesota. To get there, OSU will need to first take down Illinois and then beat the winner of the Ohio State-Missouri matchup.
“We’ve done it once this season, and yes they didn’t have some of their ranked guys wrestling, but we match up really well against them and if we wrestle them in the finals, so be it,” Oliver said of the potential of facing Minnesota again in the championship. “It’ll definitely put some spark to the rivalry going in Minnesota, getting the chance to beat them again in their home town for a national title.”
Minnesota isn’t the only team in the other half of the bracket that OSU has already faced this season. Second-seeded Iowa, which OSU beat 18-12 in Gallagher-Iba, faces seventh-seed Cornell, which lost to the Cowboys in the Grapple in the Garden, 21-16.
While there is no certainty of who Oklahoma State will face this weekend, one thing is for sure — there will be plenty of talent on hand with seven of the top eight ranked teams slated to compete this weekend.
“I can’t remember wrestling in the national duals where it looks really competitive like it does this year — from the very first round,” Smith said. “In the first round you hope to get a little bit lopsided, but it looks like there is a lot of balance out there.”