By JASON ELMQUIST
Oklahoma State may be looking to secure its 12th league tournament title with Saturday’s Big 12 Conference Wrestling Championship in Norman, but there is much more at stake than a conference championship.
Automatic berths into the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Oklahoma City on March 20-22 are also at stakes.
“You are given so many qualifiers at each weight, so it’s a key tournament,” Cowboy coach John Smith said. “We’ve got to make sure we can take as many as we can to the NCAA championships. I do think we have a shot at all 10 of them, but we’re going to have to wrestle well.”
While most weight classes have two or three qualifier allocations to the Big 12 — with 174 pounds actually having four — there is only one allocation for 184 pounds. Oklahoma State’s Nolan Boyd has the leg up for that lone bid as the only Big 12 wrestler ranked in the top 30 of the RPI.
“We’re going to need to win that weight,” Smith said. “Of course Nolan Boyd is the one that got the qualifier, but it doesn’t mean you get it though, you’ve got to go out and earn it again.”
The Cowboy coach said 197 pounds will be the most hotly contested weigh class with only two spots being held for the Big 12 — and OSU’s Blake Rosholt will have to get an upset to earn one of them.
Rosholt is No. 21 in the RPI rankings, while Iowa State’s Kyven Gadson is the top-ranked wrestler in the weight class and Oklahoma’s Travis Rutt is ranked seventh. In an early-season dual with Rutt, Rosholt lost a 12-3 major decision and was not in the lineup when the Cowboys faced Iowa State.
“I don’t think Blake’s an automatic qualifier for the national tournament ... so he needs to go down and beat some people,” Smith said. “If he does that, he’s going to go to the national championship. If he doesn’t beat some people, he’s probably not getting to go. It’s that cut and dry.”
Though Cowboy senior Chris Perry already has a spot in the NCAAs as one of the four qualifiers at 174 pounds, seeding is still at stake for the Stillwater High graduate. Perry, the second-ranked wrestler nationally at the weight, is on a collision course with Oklahoma’s Andrew Howe, the only wrestler ranked ahead of Perry.
In the December dual at Norman, Perry dropped a close 4-2 decision to Howe — when Perry was ranked No. 1 and Howe No. 2. The OSU senior didn’t get the chance for a rematch in the home dual with OU as Howe at 184 pounds.
“I’ll be ready. It’s something that I’ve looked forward to, and I’m sure he’s looked forward to it, too,” Perry said. “... I’m going to go in there with intensity and get after him and be ready to go. It’s just great for the fans, great for me and him, to get that one last test before the NCAA championships.”
Semifinals start at 3 p.m. with consolation matches scheduled for 5 p.m. The finals will begin at 7 p.m. and be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma.