Oklahoma State wrestling qualified nine of 10 weight classes in March, and graduated just two starters, but there is still a lot of questions John Smith must answer with his lineup before the 2020-21 season hopefully starts.
With so many returning veterans – including some from injury that prevented them from wrestling last season – and the top-ranked recruiting class coming to Stillwater, the Cowboys will be chalk full of depth, but also debate and competition on where to fit the pieces.
Smith finds himself with a bit of a logjam at the early weights.
Nick Piccininni will have to be replaced at 125 pounds, but the Cowboys have a lot of options to fill out 133 and 141 pounds.
The Cowboys are expected to return last year’s NCAA qualifiers Reece Witcraft (133) and Dusty Hones (141), while Kaid Brock was granted an extra year of eligibility for medical hardship and Kaden Gfeller is coming off an injury-plagued sophomore season.
There is also national runner-up Daton Fix (133 pounds in 2019) also due to return from using an Olympic redshirt.
“There’ll be some adjustments,” Smith said. “And what I mean by adjustments, we have an opportunity to maybe take one of them down to 125, with Nick graduating and a true freshman coming in that we’d like to redshirt.
“So we might have some options with some fellas.”
Smith said he doesn’t foresee any wrestlers – including Fix – using an Olympic redshirt this upcoming season even if the NCAA allowed it due to the novel coronavirus moving the Summer Olympics to 2021.
So it’s possible one of those options for 125 could be Fix.
The Sand Springs native has competed at 57 kilograms – or roughly 125 pounds – at the international level. However, the difference is he had to hit the mark once every few months, instead of once a week – like would be the case during the college season.
But Smith didn’t paint himself into a corner.
There is a chance for any of the wrestlers to work their way into the starting lineup prior to returning for the fall.
“Let’s see who wants to train all summer,” Smith said. “This is the time that you make the team, getting motivated in the summer and outworking your teammate right now.”
At the other end of the lineup, Smith already has a plan for heavyweight – the only weight the program failed to qualify a wrestler for the NCAA tournament in March.
The Cowboy coach was impressed with what Austin Harris brought to the team when called up to the weight – after wrestling at 197 pounds in 2018-19.
While he went 5-12 for the season, it was his approach to wrestling opponents that had a clear advantage on him that had Smith having high praise for Harris heading into the offseason.
“We have some things materializing right now with a few heavyweights, but I mean, I’m really strong on Austin,” Smith said. “I think the character that he brings to the team, as well as the chemistry, I think guys really appreciate it. And sometimes, when you someone who is playing that role where people respect you and appreciate you and love the fight you have, the chemistry that it brings is maybe the greatest thing that you can have.
“So, we will have some additional heavyweights, but I think in the end, people kind of really felt the chemistry (Harris) brought to the team, and the role he played as a small, small heavyweight. … So we’ll see how it materializes, and I do believe that whatever we put forward at heavyweight, it’s going to be better than what we had last year. And that means, Austin is going to be a lot better, as well.”
Though Oklahoma State returns five starters who qualified for the NCAA tournament from 149 to 197 pounds, Smith was still vocal in the possibility of seeing some true freshmen in the lineup this fall.
The Cowboys signed the top-ranked recruiting class, including the top two pound-for-pound wrestlers in this graduating class of high school seniors.
No. 1-ranked A.J. Ferrari is projected for 197 pounds – which is where NWCA honorable mention All-American Dakota Geer wrestled – and No. 2-ranked Dustin Plott, who wrestled at 182 pounds, so could slot in where graduating senior Joe Smith wrestled at 174 pounds or contend with NWCA second-team All-American Anthony Montalvo at 184.
Also in the mix as a freshman could be Konner Doucet, who was the No. 6-ranked 220-pounder and was a four-time Oklahoma state champion, and could be pushing for the heavyweight spot.
“I’m really high on our class,” Smith said. “Several of them are going to be starting.”