KANSAS CITY – Alex Dieringer is the lead dog on a team that wants to win a national championship in two weeks inside legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The Oklahoma State senior 165-pounder improved to 28-0, moved his win streak to 77 and became the seventh wrestler to win four Big 12 Conference individual titles with a 4-2 win over Iowa State senior Tanner Weatherman at 165 pounds on Sunday. The two-time NCAA champion who hails from Wisconsin, highlighted an impressive two days inside the Sprint Center that saw the Cowboys wrap up their fourth consecutive league title on the first day. It also marked OSU’s 14th team trophy since the Big 12 formed in 1997 and the program’s 50th overall conference crown in 100 years of wrestling.
Sunday saw OSU win seven titles and outdistance second place Oklahoma by 61 points (161-100). Iowa State (87), South Dakota State (77), and Wyoming (71 ½) rounded out the top five in the new 10-team Big 12 field.
Firing on all cylinders, in seven-minute shape, and excited about what lies ahead, Dieringer and his teammates cannot get to New York fast enough.
“The team wrestled well I thought,” said Dieringer, who will join nine other Cowboys at the NCAA Championships in New York City, March 17-19. “The team is wrestling well at the right time. We’ve got two weeks to get ready and everyone is ready to go.”
Dieringer edged Weatherman, 3-2, and expects similar opponents’ tactics at his final NCAA event.
“I won and it feels good to be the champion, but I’m not satisfied with how I wrestled (in the finals). You have to blow through guys that aren’t going to wrestle,” Dieringer said. “I feel like a lot of guys are going to wrestle me that way, so I have to work through it, go against guys in the room backing up and work through it.”
Dieringer joins former OSU stars Johnny Thompson, Jordan Oliver , and Chris Perry, plus Michael Lightner (Oklahoma), Bryan Snyder (Nebraska), and Cael Sanderson (Iowa State) as the Big 12’s four-time league champions.
OSU head coach John Smith, now a winner of 14 Big 12 team titles saw much more positive than negative over the last two days.
“Getting 10 to the national tournament is always the goal. Winning the conference tournament is always a goal,” Smith said. “We have to be happy with the way we wrestled this weekend. There is still some time to correct some things, to make sure we go to New York with a bonus-point mentality. We saw a lot of that this weekend and that is what it is going to take to win a national title.”
Seven Cowboys stood at the top of the medal stand. Dean Heil (141), Anthony Collica (149), Joe Smith (157), Nolan Boyd (184), Preston Weigel (197), and Austin Marsden (285) joined Dieringer to win on Sunday afternoon. Oklahoma’s Ryan Milhof (125) and Cody Brewer (133) and Iowa State’s Lelund Weatherspoon (174) picked up the table scraps that OSU left over.
Joe Smith (30-3) was never in trouble against South Dakota State senior Cody Pack, winning his first Big 12 title with an 8-4 victory. Out since Feb. 7, Smith had a major, a pin, and the win over Pack, now a four-time NCAA qualifier who takes a 27-3 record to New York.
“It’s been a journey,” said the 157-pound Smith. “You spend so much time with these guys all year; it’s such a long season and this time of year is exciting. You poor your emotions into it and to get to this point and to see everyone wrestling hard and making it to nationals is fun.
“I know everyone on this team is ready to go. We had a good weekend (in Kansas City).”
Collica (26-7) continued his late-season push, beating Oklahoma rookie Davion Jeffries, 11-3, in the 149-pound final. It was Collica’s third Big 12 crown. Like Collica, Boyd (28-6) has been strong over the last two months. The junior beat North Dakota State All-American Hayden Zilmer (30-4), 8-7, in a wild 184-pound final that needed an officials review at the end to determine if the Bison senior should have been awarded a late takedown.
“This was something I was looking forward to … was this new mindset working or were my big wins just flukes,” said Boyd, who owns a win over 2015 NCAA champion Gabe Dean of Cornell. “I didn’t dominate that last match, but I took advantage of my opportunities.
“The guy that really gets me going is (Anthony) Collica. The style he wrestles motivates me. It isn’t easy to wrestle like that, and I think the team is going to have fun at nationals.”
Heil (27-1) won his second straight league title, beating a funky Seth Gross of South Dakota State, 5-3. The 141-pound final included multiple scrambles initiated by Gross after Heil shot attempts. A Gross shot and ensuing scramble led to a video review but resulted in no points for the Jackrabbit redshirt-freshman, a transfer from Iowa and three-time Minnesota high school state champion.
Weigel (17-9) held off a late flurry from South Dakota State’s Nate Rotert to win 4-3 at 197 pounds. The redshirt-freshman from Kansas has been a part-time starter in 2015-16, but will be in NYC.
Senior heavyweight Austin Marsden (27-1) finished the tournament with a 6-3 victory over Wyoming’s Tanner Harms. It was Marsden’s third league title.
Oklahoma opened the final session with back-to-back champions. Senior Cody Brewer (20-2) turned a failed Earl Hall cement mixer attempt into six points and eventually won 12-7 for his second straight league crown at 133 pounds. The four-time Big 12 finalist and NCAA champion last March beat Hall for the third time this season and was voted Outstanding Wrestler.
“It was my last Big match so I let it fly,” Brewer said. “Going into nationals there is obviously a little more pressure this year, the defending champion, of course, there are expectations. But I think I’ve done a good job this year and I will go into (the NCAAs) like it is just another tournament.”
Sooner sophomore Ryan Milhof (21-7) used a pair of reversals, the second one in the first set of overtime tiebreakers to beat OSU’s Eddie Klimara, 5-4, in the 125-pound final. It was Milhof’s second win of the season over Klimara (27-5).
Lelund Weatherspoon (24-10) turned four upper-body struggles into takedowns in an 8-5 win over OSU’s Chandler Rogers in the 174-pound championship bout.
Utah Valley State qualified a pair of wrestlers for the national tournament and despite a tough couple of days, head coach Greg Williams likes the new league.
“The Big 12 Championship is bigger and better, and allows our wrestlers to compete against a higher level of competition,” Williams said. “The treatment here in Kansas City has been amazing and this is a competitive conference that will keep getting better. Overall I was really proud of the guys for the effort that they put in this weekend. This team fought all year to improve and we’re going to continue to get better.”
Wyoming head coach Mark Branch echoed Williams’ thoughts.
“I was part of this and I think we all agree that this is what we want, to simulate a national tournament environment,” Branch said. “I was involved in a lot of Big Eight and Big 12 Tournaments and this was, by far, the best and biggest I’ve seen. This is what we were hoping for. From the arena, to the setup, it is a positive effect for everyone. We are going to benefit from this, the competition is going to make us better. I think everyone would agree that we need to get better as a conference as a whole and I think that is the direction (the Big 12) is headed.”
Iowa State’s Patrick Downey, a Junior World Team member in 2012 and national junior college champion at Iowa Central in 2015, entered the weekend with three matches this season. The Baltimore native went 4-1 to finish third at 197 pounds, scoring an overtime takedown to beat Northern Colorado’s Trent Noon. On Saturday, Downey knocked off top-seeded Jake Smith of West Virginia before falling to Weigel in the semifinals.
Kyle Larson, ISU’s fifth qualifier, finished fifth at 125 pounds, a weight class that earned six allocations.
West Virginia struggled both days, qualifying just two for New York City – Dylan Cottrell (157) and Bubba Scheffel (184). Smith finished sixth and 2015 NCAA finalist Zeke Moisey did not wrestle a match, injury defaulting all three of his matches.
The Big 12 earned 36 allocations for the 2016 NCAA Championships, March 17-19. Twenty-two of the spots went to OSU, Oklahoma, Iowa State, and West Virginia. The six additions from the West Regional totaled 14 with South Dakota State’s four leading the pack. The NCAA Committee’s 46 at-large picks will be announced this Wednesday.
2016 Big 12 Championships
Kansas City * Sprint Center
125-Ryan Milhof (O) dec Eddie Klimara (OS), 5-4 tb
133-Cody Brewer (O) dec Earl Hall (Iowa State), 12-7
141-Dean Heil (OS) dec Seth Gross (South Dakota State), 5-3
149-Anthony Collica (OS) maj dec Davion Jeffries (O), 11-3
157-Joe Smith (OS) dec Cody Pack (South Dakota State), 8-4
165-Alex Dieringer (OS) dec Tanner Weatherman (Iowa State), 4-2
174-Lelund Weatherspoon (Iowa State) dec Chandler Rogers, 8-5
184-Nolan Boyd (OS) dec Hayden Zilmer (North Dakota State), 8-7
197-Preston Weigel (OS) dec Nate Rotert (South Dakota State), 4-3
285-Austin Marsden (OS) dec Tanner Harms (Wyoming), 6-3