By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Most people already have Stillwater High School wrestler Joe Smith as the odds-on favorite to win the 132-pound weight class in the state tournament.
But for those who doubted whether the sophomore could repeat as a state champ, last week Smith let the state know that he’s the one to beat.
Facing No. 2 Zack Edwards of Broken Arrow — and what most people believe to be Smith’s closest competitor — Smith nearly pinned Edwards twice en route to a 21-8 major decision.
“That was kind of a statement match to everybody in the weight class around the state,” Stillwater coach Doug Chesbro said. “He basically said, ‘This is me. I’m Joe Smith. I’m the man to beat and this is what you’re going to have to go through to win a state title.’ As far as he’s concerned, in his mind it’s his to lose. He’s going to do everything that he can to make sure that he keeps a hold of that.”
A lot of wrestlers would be satisfied just to get a win over a wrestler like Edwards, but not Smith. Days after defeating Edwards, Smith pinned Norman’s Sam Richison Thursday before blitzing through the Big 4 Tournament and being named Outstanding Wrestler Saturday.
“When the whole state is looking at you and you’re coming in at the end of the season, I do feel like I’ve made a statement this (past) week,” Smith said. “Against Broken Arrow and in the Big 4 Tournament, getting a decision on people is making a statement. Majoring the kid from Broken Arrow is making a statement to the whole state that I’m here to wrestle. I’m not playing around. I want to win.”
After a week like the one Smith had, it would be easy for him to rest on his laurels. But that just wouldn’t be Smith’s style.
“He realizes that no matter how far along he is as far as comparing himself to competition, he’s still not as good as he can be,” Chesbro said. “We need to make sure that he doesn’t become complacent in the fact that he’s beating everybody in the state right now and he doesn’t have to do anything else. As soon as you start to rest on your laurels, then — boom — somebody else sneaks up on you.”
So what is it that drives Smith to spend a few extra minutes in the wrestling room? Frankly, it’s the 13 other guys that make up Stillwater’s wrestling squad.
“I’ve always kind of been a points guy — scoring points and teching them,” Smith said. “I’m working on when I put you to your back I’m not going to let you off. I’m just trying to get the pin for my team. A lot of our duals now are getting pretty close. I’ve been used to scoring points, but now I’m having to go back to pinning people.”
Sometimes those pins don’t come in the first period — as was the case against Richison Thursday. But when push comes to shove, Chesbro knows that Smith is as close as it comes to having a sure thing in wrestling.
“Wrestling can be a frustrating sport sometimes,” Chesbro said. “He’s going to get everybody’s best effort. It’s no surprise that some kids are going to go out and fight real hard to not be pinned. They’re going to be able to tell people that, ‘Yeah, I wrestled Joe Smith and I didn’t lose by fall to him.’ That’s a feather in a lot of people’s caps. It’s kind of a challenge to him to go ahead and get that fall if he has the opportunity. He’s a great team wrestler so it does mean a lot to him when he gets that fall.”
No doubt, there will be many more pins and major decisions over the next few weeks as the Pioneers prepare for the state tournament. But as more and more eyes take notice of the Stillwater sophomore, Smith can’t help but embrace the pressure of being the man to beat.
“Some people are going to take that as a negative thought that all the eyes are on you, but I get excited when all the eyes are on me,” Smith said. “I feel like my performance goes up when people are watching me. I love big crowds. You’re right there and everybody is watching you — it’s just a big motivator.”
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