ST. LOUIS -- A rivalry years in the making will reach a fever pitch on the national stage with college wrestling's biggest prize on the line.
Oklahoma State's defending champion Dean Heil will attempt to win his second NCAA title at 141 pounds at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships against a wrestler he has wrestled against since his youth years in Brunswick, Ohio -- a suburb of Cleveland. His opponent will be Virginia's George DiCamillo, the six seed in the weight.
"We've been rivals ever since Pee Wee. As far as I can remember, we've grown up scrapping with each other," Heil said. "I think what makes this extra special is after I beat him at the scuffle, he gave me a shove after my match and said, 'See you in March.'"
The Cowboy junior reached his second straight championship match against Rutgers' Anthony Ashnault by a 4-2 decision, while DiCamillo defeated last year's national runner-up, Bryce Meredith, with a 10-7 decision.
"Dean is the reason I train as hard as I do. It's simple. He's the defending champ," DiCamillo said. "We have history. We have bad blood. We've wrestled since he were little kids. He took away my dream of a high school state championship when I was a sophomore and he took away my dream of a Scuffle Championship this year. So I'm coming after him."
Heil said he was wrestling with a knee injury when the two squared off in the Southern Scuffle at the beginning of January. It was a match filled with some controversy that included a lengthy review that awarded Heil a takedown in the second period that was the deciding factor in a 3-1 decision in the semifinals of the Scuffle.
It's not just his pee-wee rival that Heil is going against.
Even though Oklahoma State's 141-pounder is the defending champion at the weight class, there has been much talk of how unlikely it would be for him to repeat -- with some predictions even having him fall short of Saturday's championship match.
That's just been more fuel for Heil.
"It motivated me a lot last year, and it still motivates me this year," Heil said. "I'm out here to prove people wrong with my wrestling. That's what I've been doing, and that's what I'm going to keep on doing.
Some of the argument against Heil has been the amount of close matches he has been in this year.
Heil heads into the championship match with a 35-0 record, with 15 of those matches being decided by three points or less.
His journey to seeking a second national title has had parallels with OSU volunteer assistant coach Chris Perry, who also overcame doubters to win two NCAA titles for Oklahoma State.
"Perry has helped a lot and has talked to me about it, coached me through it," Heil said. "I believe there are a lot more haters this year than there were last year, including some who didn't believe I would be in the finals. Chris Perry has been telling me how to channel that energy into motivation. Laugh at those people, make people want to hate you."
Part of the problem with the nay-sayers using the close matches to discredit Heil's success is the way other wrestlers have attacked the Cowboy on the mat.
The majority of Heil's matches in the NCAA tournament have been with him standing in the middle of the mat and his opponents circling around him at arm's length or greater. And the times they have moved in on him, he has taken advantage with the takedowns needed to win his matches.
"I've noticed that, and a lot of people don't like the way I wrestle because its up close and I'm not a pretty style wrestler, they think I stall," Heil said. "But you have to look at it from both perspectives, if that other guy is not going to push the pace, then why can't he be the one that's considered to be stalling? Why isn't he the one who is being hated?
"I don't care what people think. But I did notice people weren't coming out to wrestle me as much this tournament and keeping their distance. Nobody wants to tie up with me, so I'll just adjust to however I need to."
Heil will be the lone Cowboy in the championships after redshirt sophomore Kaid Brock suffered his third loss of the season to South Dakota State's Seth Gross at 133 pounds, and senior Nolan Boyd lost to two-time NCAA champion Gabe Dean at 184 pounds.
The championship matches will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday, and will be televised on ESPN.
This article is written by Jason Elmquist from Stillwater NewsPress, Okla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.