RENO, Nev. – There are two things that many collegiate wrestlers can look forward to in the month of December — not eating a whole lot and competing in the state of Nevada.
The Las Vegas Invitational celebrated its 30th year the first week of December. Ohio State, one of many Midwestern and Eastern schools which annually make the trip, won the 2011 team title.
The Reno Tournament of Champions opened for business in 1994 as a dual tournament. The one-day event, usually held the week before Christmas, has changed formats but, like the Vegas Invite, draws many schools from east of the Mississippi River.
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At the Division III level, the Duals in the Desert were held for the ninth time in Las Vegas the same day of the Reno TOC.
All of this despite no Nevada school offering wrestling at the Division I level.
“It was kind of by chance that [the Desert Duals] started,” Wartburg coach Jim Miller said. “I was at a class reunion and one of my old classmates was the president of the Flamingo [in Las Vegas] and he wanted to get some wrestling ‘out here.’ And a high school coach in [Nevada] helped with getting everything going.
“It’s the perfect time. Our kids usually take finals on Thursday and we head to Vegas on Friday. A lot of parents come out. It’s a winter spring break of sorts.”
Wartburg, the reigning kings of Division III, host the event inside the Flamingo Ballroom. Fellow Iowans Coe, Simpson, Grandview and William Penn joined schools from a variety of states, including Pacific (Ore.), Campbellsville from Kentucky, Olivet in Michigan and Rhode Island.
“It’s an easy sell for fans, especially parents. You say we are going to Vegas this weekend and wrestle a little, have some fun and they are usually in,” Miller said.
Veteran coach Craig Turnbull of West Virginia, in his 33rd year running the program, brings his teams annually to Las Vegas and Reno.
“Las Vegas is such a unique place,” Turnbull said. “We take the kids to Lock Haven and Clarion, so these are the two trips a year that kind of let the kids feel like it feels like in football or basketball. Not all these kids get a chance to go to someplace like Vegas or even Reno, so it’s fun for them.”
Oklahoma State has dominated the Reno TOC since its inception. The second-ranked Cowboys rolled to another team title on Dec. 18, out-distancing Wyoming by a wide margin. Michigan State and Binghamton also made the trip west.
“It’s always a fun trip for us,” Oklahoma State coach John Smith said. “We try to have a schedule that gives us the opportunity to see guys from all over the country throughout the course of the year. You want to get as much competition as possible, see some of the guys you are possibly going to see at nationals.
“It’s usually our last competition before the [holiday] break, so the fact that you get four, five or maybe six matches gives us something to look at when we come back. Some of the things certain individuals need to work on once we get going again.”
Vegas provides its usual perks.
“The last couple of years the National Finals Rodeo has been in town the same time as the wrestling,” Wyoming head coach Mark Branch said. “So we’ve been able to get out and check that out. There’s always something going on there and the guys always enjoy going to Las Vegas.”
Another December tradition hits the mats when the Midlands Championships are staged in Evanston, Ill., on Dec. 29-30. This season’s tournament marks the 49th year. It’s safe to say the competition might be better than a half century ago, but then again, Evanston is no Vegas.