By BEN JOHNSON
The best wrestlers in the state of Oklahoma will descend upon Oklahoma City today and Saturday with one goal in mind: stand atop the podium on Saturday night as a state champion.
And this year's state tournament should offer up some great drama. After all, 38 wrestlers who won state titles in 2013 are back to try to defend their crowns this season.
However, there's guaranteed to be fewer than 38 repeat as champions, mainly because the 160-pound field in Class 6A features two reigning state champs — Bartlesville's Michael Hamilton and Norman North's Levi Berry — and neither one are No. 1 seeds in the 160 bracket. Those honors go to Muskogee's Jacobe Smith and Edmond North's Zach Walton.
Bottom line, there will be storylines all over the place at State Fair Arena. And who benefits from all of that? Wrestling fans and the wrestling community as a whole.
Now it's time to get to some predictions (and random thoughts):
- Stillwater wins the Class 6A crown: The best barometer I can find to go by for the 6A state tournament is how Stillwater, Broken Arrow and Edmond North ended up at the Bobby Lyons Invitational in Sand Springs in mid January. Broken Arrow beat Stillwater by half a point for the team crown, but with more teams in the mix, I think I'll go with Stillwater to barely overcome Broken Arrow in the end. And I realize that Stillwater lost the regional crown to Broken Arrow last week, but I have confidence in Andrew Nieman (106 pounds), Kaid Brock (132), Tristan Moran (138), Joe Smith (145), Chandler Rogers (170) and Jordan Dieringer (182) to lead the Pioneers to a team title. (Full disclosure: I won't take Dieringer to pick up a crown at 182, with Edmond North's Joel Dixon lurking.)
- Time to pay attention to Sand Springs: While it's easy to get caught up talking about Broken Arrow, Stillwater or Edmond North in Class 6A, it's time we start noticing Sand Springs. The Sandites will be in the hunt for fourth place at the state tournament, and they'll be doing so without a single senior at the state tournament. Freshman Daton Fix (113) is a machine and Cody Karstetter (126) is solid and both will be back next year to likely have Sand Springs in more championship discussions.
- Collinsville wins again in 5A: I was told by one 5A coach this week that Lawton MacArthur has all the tools to unseat Collinsville as the Class 5A champion. And yes, it's plausible. After all, Collinsville coach Wes Harding sounded like a coach who knew that his was vulnerable after last week's 5A East Regional at Tahlequah High School. But I picked against Collinsville for the dual state tournament and I'm not doing it again this week. I say the Cardinals win their fourth straight 5A crown (but it'll be closer than some think).
- Tuttle and Perry win 4A/3A crowns (shockingly): When it comes to suspense, it's anything but in the lower two classes. Tuttle and Perry are wrestling powerhouses and there's no denying it. So, once again, both will leave Oklahoma City on Saturday night with team titles.
- Cherokee County gets two state chamions: In all, seven wrestlers from Cherokee County — Tahlequah has four and Keys, Sequoyah and Hulbert have one each — going to Oklahoma City. There are three (Tahlequah's Hestin Lamons (152) and Reese Davis (160) and Hulbert's Bryton McGowan (220) going as regional champions. And I like Lamons and McGowan to claim state championships. I'll take Lamons to beat Lawton MacArthur's Brok Williams in the finals, and I predict that McGowan knocks off Davis' Braden Ruth for a championship. It's hard to pick Davis to win a title with Altus' Cameron Loving in the mix, in addition to Chickasha's Triston Hill — who Davis could meet in the semifinals if he beats Lawton MacArthur's Colton Jump in the first round.
- Gary Wayne Harding becomes a four-time state champion: In what could amount to a slam dunk, I'll take Gary Wayne Harding to win his fourth individual crown in four years for Collinsville. Harding is nearly unstoppable — with only one loss this season (at the Kansas City Stampede) — and I don't see many in the 138 field even hanging with him this weekend. His next challenge will come when he arrives on campus at Oklahoma State.
- Et cetera: The 126-pound field in Class 6A will be loaded with entertaining matches. Yukon's Boo Lewallen and Union's Luke Wolfenberger are reigning state champions, and Broken Arrow's Davion Jefferies claimed a 5A crown last year with Collinsville. Mix in Karstetter and Stillwater's Benny Teegarden and this will be a nonstop brawl from start to finish. ... The Dixon triplets at Edmond North will wrestle together in high school one last time (barring an appearance at All-State). The trio helped put Edmond North wrestling on the map for good, and cap tip to them for being great ambassadors while with the Huskies. ... If the people in Oklahoma City get to see what I saw last weekend in the 126 regional finals (McAlester's Donald Cannon vs. Edison's Aaron O'Brien) and the 182 finals (Deer Creek's Cole Pacheco vs. Bishop Kelley's Brice Inbody) then they're in for a treat. ... Sallisaw fans get to watch Jadon Davenport (195) and Cale Wilson (182) wrestle one last time. I've seen them both numerous times this year, and I'd be foolish not to pick both to win titles. ... With Davey Dolan now gone, Berryhill's Jonce Blaylock might sometimes get forgotten about. But that's silliness. Blaylock is great and should have a finals showdown with Chandler's Cody Ryan — which Blaylock will still likely win comfortably.