KANSAS CITY – Oklahoma State prides itself on wrestling its best in March. From all indications, after one day inside the Sprint Center, the Cowboys appear to be ready for a run in New York City in two weeks.
O-State pushed nine into Sunday’s championship finals and scored a massive 140.5 points to double the field at the 2016 Big 12 Championships. When the other participants took the mat for Saturday night’s last round, Oklahoma was in second place with 65.5 points. OSU’s 50th overall conference title and 14th Big 12 crown is in the books.
“That is what we need in two weeks, to go out and score bonus points,” OSU head coach John Smith said. “We had a couple of matches where we wrestled to our competition, didn’t go after it like we need to. This first day is like the first day at the national tournament; you have to go after bonus points because that is what it is going to take.
“We have some guys wrestling with some confidence right now, guys who aren’t just accepting wins. We want to win with majors and pins. It wasn’t a perfect day, but we have to be happy with nine in the finals.”
In search of a fourth-straight Big 12 title, OSU had five pins, five major decisions and a technical fall during a 19-1 day. The rest of the field combined for 11 finalists. When wrestling starts at 9 a.m. (CST) OSU will take a 68.5 point lead into the second day over Iowa State. OU is 1.5 points behind the Cyclones in third with South Dakota State two points back in fourth.
OSU junior 149-pounder Anthony Collica (25-7) continued with his cradle frenzy, pinning Timmy Box of Northern Colorado in 5:10 of his semifinal bout at 149 pounds. Earlier, the junior pinned Utah Valley’s Trevor Wilson in 3:42, his sixth pin in seven matches. Entering the season, Collica, a product of Ohio, had five career pins.
“I’m just kind of falling into it,” said Collica, a two-time Big 12 champ. “I used the cradle in high school quite a bit and it has come back to me of late. I don’t know, (the cradle) just always seems to be there.
“We train for this time of year. Our bodies are feeling good right now. I think it is coming together for a lot of guys. I’m ready (for Sunday) and for nationals.”
Collica will be joined in the finals by 125-pounder Eddie Klimara (28-4), who will face Oklahoma’s Ryan Milhof (20-7), a sophomore who beat Klimara in a regular season dual meet; top-ranked Dean Heil (26-1), who will face South Dakota State’s Seth Gross (23-11) at 141; rookie Joe Smith (29-3), who will face South Dakota State senior Cody Pack (27-2) at 157; Alex Dieringer (27-0) at 165; Chandler Rogers (26-6) at 174; Nolan Boyd (27-6), who faces All-American Hayden Zilmer (30-3) of North Dakota State at 184; Preston Weigel (16-9) at 197; and All-American heavyweight Austin Marsden (26-1).
Rogers spent time behind 2015 All-American Kyle Crutchmer for most of the season, but a late-season injury ended Crutchmer’s campaign. After a 20-7 major decision in the quarterfinals, Rogers rallied to beat South Dakota State’s David Kocer, 10-8, with a wild, flying-squirrel-inspired takedown at the buzzer in the semifinals. SDSU coaches challenged the call, but officials ruled a takedown.
“I don’t know what it was … it was a guy not wanting to go to overtime,” said Rogers, a redshirt-freshman. “(Kocer) was dropping his head, so I felt like I could just jump over. I thought I had riding time, but when I looked at the clock it was only 40 (seconds) so I knew I needed to score because I hate overtime.
“I think Oklahoma State is a really wild team. It is kind of care-free, just going after it. And this is the first season I’ve been able to go a full seven minutes and be able to walk after it. It comes down to what guys are doing extra, the extra work we are putting in.”
Weigel, a redshirt-freshman, beat Iowa State’s Patrick Downey in the semifinals, while Smith, out for almost a month due to injury, had a pin and a major decision. Dieringer moved his win streak to 76 straight win a pin and a technical fall.
The race for second includes Oklahoma, Iowa State, and South Dakota State, who each advanced three to title bouts. North Dakota State and Wyoming each advanced one to the finals.
OU’s 2015 NCAA champion Cody Brewer (19-2) rolled into the final with a 20-2 technical fall in his semifinal, while Iowa State’s Earl Hall (29-6) won a wild 16-8 match with OSU’s Gary Wayne Harding in the other semifinal at 133 pounds. Rookie Davion Jeffries (21-8) had a fall in his semifinal, flattening South Dakota State’s Alex Kocer in 4:47, with Milhof getting by NDSU’s Josh Rodriguez, 10-5, in the semifinals.
Tanner Weatherman (28-7) and Leland Weatherspoon (23-10) joined Hall in the finals for ISU, Weatherspoon scoring an overtime takedown to beat OU’s Matt Reed at 174 pounds. Downey entered the tournament with a 2-1 record and beat top-seeded Jake Smith of West Virginia in the first session.
Head coach Chris Bono saw Gross, Pack, and 197-pounder Nate Rotert (26-8) make the finals. Gross, a redshirt-freshman, beat Wyoming’s Bryce Meredith in the semifinals, while Pack, the top seed at 157 edged Wyoming’s Archie Colgan, 3-2, in his semifinal bout. The Pack-Smith finals matchup will be one to watch on Sunday. Both men, ranked inside the top eight in the country, have battled injuries late in the season.
“We are down here fighting and our goal is to take as many guys as possible to the NCAA tournament,” said Bono, a national champion for ISU during his competitive days. “I’m proud of our guys, they’ve fought hard every single match and that is all you can ask for. This is big for our program. We knew we had a decent team coming here; we’ve had a good year, so we are right were we thought we’d be to be honest. We have seven guys left and our goal is to get all seven of them to the NCAA tournament.”
Wyoming’s Tanner Harms (19-3) beat OU’s Ross Larson, 8-6, to give head coach Mark Branch his lone finalist.
The Cowboys went 10-for-10 in the first session and took control of the team race. OSU had four pins, four major decisions and two decisions to total 72 points. The Sooners sat in second, 32 points behind OSU with SDSU, at 37.5, in third.
Harding sparked OSU with an 11-point third period to beat Air Force’s Josh Martinez, 12-9, at 133 points. Klimara, Collica, Joe Smith, and Dieringer scored falls.
Oklahoma pushed six into the semifinals with South Dakota State and Iowa State pushing five in the new 10-team field of the Big 12. Brewer led Keegan Moore, 6-5, entering the final period, but the Sooner stretched things out with a 14-5 major decision of the West Virginia rookie. The second seed at 133, Hall, also had to rally in the third period to beat Northern Colorado’s Rico Montoya, 6-5.
West Virginia, in ninth after the first session, took an injury default at 125 when 2015 NCAA finalist Zeke Moisey did not compete, and at 157 pounds where Dylan Cottrell fell 2-1 to Northern Colorado’s Eleazor De Luca.
2016 Big 12 Championships, Kansas City, Sprint Center:
Oklahoma State 140.5, Iowa State 72, Oklahoma 70.5, South Dakota State 68.5, Wyoming 51, West Virginia 49, North Dakota State 45.5, Utah Valley 33.5, Air Force 24.5, Northern Colorado 24.5