Cowboys heavy underdogs heading to Iowa

Jason Elmquist/Stillwater News Press Oklahoma State redshirt freshman Travis Wittlake, right, will face his biggest challenge of the season – a matchup with the No. 2-ranked wrestler in front of a hostile crowd that usually turns out over 13,000 strong at Iowa.

Oklahoma State wrestling will be fighting for the sake of history in Iowa City, Iowa, on Sunday.

The 10th-ranked Cowboys will be considered the underdog at all 10 weights, based on rankings, when they take on No. 1-ranked Iowa at 7 p.m. – which will be available to watch on the Big Ten Network.

Some in the wrestling landscape are contemplating if the Cowboys could potentially be shut out by the heavily-favored Hawkeyes. And that’s what OSU is fighting for.

In the 100-plus years of Oklahoma State wrestling, no Cowboy team has ever been shut out in a dual meeting.

The closest the Cowboys came to that happening, though, was against the rival Hawkeyes.

In a 1991 dual in Iowa, the Cowboys had the program’s lowest ever dual score, losing to Iowa 35-2

It nearly happened, again, against Iowa in 1995. The Hawkeyes, inside of Gallagher-Iba no less, beat the Cowboys 31-3.

This Iowa roster features a top-10 wrestler at each of the 10 weight classes, including eight ranked in the top 5 of their respective class – with the lowest ranking being freshman Abe Assad (184) at No. 9, who will face OSU’s No. 14-ranked Anthony Montalvo.

“I'd like to see some of those matches that appear to be really tight that are going to be really competitive,” Cowboy coach John Smith said. “I’m looking forward to seeing those, and seeing the action and seeing our efforts in them.”

Though Oklahoma State is considered the underdog at each weight class, it’s not as though the Cowboys are going in completely outmatched.

At 125 pounds, it will be a matchup between No. 1-ranked Spencer Lee and No. 4 Nick Piccininni, who knocked off Lee in last year’s dual with a pin of the two-time national champion.

Oklahoma State’s redshirt senior likely won’t be a fan favorite, because of that moment inside Gallagher-Iba Arena a year ago.

“I don't think I’ll have many,” Piccininni said Sunday. “I don't really care. I got Oklahoma State on my back.”

The match at 149 pounds should also be hotly contested with No. 6-ranked Boo Lewallen squaring off against No. 2 Pat Lugo in a battle of wrestlers with just one loss each.

The 165-pound bout features two wrestlers ranked in the top six, with OSU redshirt freshman Travis Wittlake – ranked No. 6 – set to face No. 2 Alex Marinelli.

“I'm personally excited for it just because I get to wrestle the No. 2 guy in the country,” Wittlake said following Sunday’s Bedlam dual. “It's gonna be an interesting match, and it's gonna be a good gauge for to see where I'm at. On this year, I've been winning a lot lately, but he's going to be a lot more quality opponent than anybody I've wrestled this year.”

It will also be a totally new experience for Wittlake, and a handful of other first-year starters.

There are only two Cowboy starters from last year’s Iowa dual – which was in front of a sold-out Gallagher-Iba Arena crowd – in the lineup heading into Sunday’s dual.

And of the wrestlers who will experience their first dual in the historic wrestling rivalry – in front of a crowd that drew over 13,000 for the OSU dual in 2018 – five are starting in duals for the first time in their career.

“It’s gonna be fireworks, it's gonna be packed,” said Piccininni, a veteran of the rivalry. “I'm excited for our team to go there to experience that, especially before the Big 12 tournament. NCAA is just like this, you get a big crowd and you get that feel, so it just prepares you even more.”

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