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Five Thoughts on Opening Day of Big 12 Wrestling Championships

On the main character, the main event and more.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]


TULSA — It was far from a perfect first day at the Big 12 Wrestling Championships on Saturday for the Cowboys, but like they’ve done all season, the Pokes have still done just enough to maybe win the thing.

Oklahoma State sits in second after a day of action in Tulsa with 119.5 points and four finalists. Iowa State leads the way with 129.5 points and five finalists.

The tournament will resume at noon Sunday with consolation matches before concluding with the finals at 7:30 p.m. inside the BOK Center.

1. Daton Fix is Still the Story

Regardless of how Sunday unfolds, Daton Fix is the main character of this tournament, only minutes from his hometown.

Fix will wrestle in the 133-pound final with the chance to become the first five-time conference champion in Big 12 and OSU history. Top-seeded Fix got there with a 4-0 decision over 4 seed Derrick Cardinal of South Dakota State. He pinned North Dakota State’s Fernando Barreto in the quarterfinals after earning a technical fall against No. 8 Garrett Ricks of Wyoming in the first round.

Fix has been at OSU for seven years through an Olympic redshirt and a pandemic, which is ultimately what gave him the extra conference tournament and opportunity at history.  And making history for a Cowboy wrestling program known as “The Greatest Dynasty in Sports” is exceptionally rare nowadays. It basically takes a pandemic to do so.

He will wrestle 2 seed Evan Frost of ISU in his last Big 12 final. Although a win would guarantee Fix some OSU history, depending on the lineup, ISU’s David Carr could beat him to Big 12 history with a win.

2. We Get the Match We Wanted

Wrestling fans have been hyping up this matchup before it was even guaranteed, but OSU’s Dustin Plott will officially meet Northern Iowa’s Parker Keckeisen in the 184-pound final.

Keckeisen is the top seed at 22-0 as last year’s NCAA runner-up and three-time Big 12 champion at the weight. Plott is a two-time conference champion but claimed his titles at 174 pounds before bumping up at the start of this season.

Even a spectator who watched college wrestling for the first time this season Saturday at the BOK Center could tell why this matchup is so hyped. As the two competed in the semis on mats right next to each other, Plott notched a 21-4 tech fall over 6 seed Sam Wolf of Air Force while Keckeisen simultaneously earned an 11-3 major decision against Mizzou’s Colton Hawks, the 4 seed.

The two met earlier this season in Stillwater, with Keckeisen winning 12-6 in a bout that was closer than the score says. But the stakes have been risen each meeting. And no matter how Sunday night’s match concludes, there might be a Round 3 in two weeks in Kansas City with a national title on the line.

3. Jordan Williams Rollercoaster Rolls On

I wrote in my bracket breakdowns and predictions this week that I wouldn’t be surprised if redshirt freshman Jordan Williams dropped early matches he shouldn’t, or if he made a run to the 149-pound final. He pulled off the latter.

Williams upset top-seeded Casey Swiderski of ISU 8-6 in a semifinal matchup that was filled with drama thanks to reviews, stall warnings and an injury timeout. Before that, Williams beat No. 5 Alek Martin from South Dakota State 13-8 after getting a bye the first round.

That semifinal bout, though, was the epitome of Williams’ rollercoaster of a season that at one point saw him lose his starting job to Rutgers transfer Sammy Alvarez for about a month. Ironically, the first trip Williams missed included West Virginia, and because of that he’ll wrestle the Mountaineers’ Ty Watters for the first time Sunday night.

But in a season his coach was questioning in January if Williams would even wrestle in this tournament, Williams is in the finals with a chance to start his path to becoming a four-time Big 12 champion. And Williams made Smith look like a genius in doing so. Not only did Smith put the right guy there that upset a top wrestler from the team’s stiffest competition, but Williams also backed up the growth Smith has been praising Williams for the past month.

“He’s starting to develop some maturity and understand what it’s gonna take for him to be successful ,” Smith said. “And once he identified that, he’s really done a nice job with his work habits in the room, just his overall lifestyle.”

4. Troy Spratley Reflection of John Smith’s Program

Troy Spratley punched his ticket to the Big 12 finals as a redshirt freshman, then sprinted off the mat and into the BOK Center tunnel and threw his headgear in disgust.

Spratley needed sudden victory to get past 6 seed Kysen Terukina of ISU, but even then Spratley was unable to score a takedown in the 2-1 win. Spratley was trying to get a winning takedown near the edge of the mat when they both went out of bounds and Terukina was called for stalling, giving Spratley the deciding point. Terukina ripped his headgear off and onto the mat as the loser. But then, as the winner, Spratley did the same once he was in the BOK Center tunnel.

“It feels great, but I think this is what we came here to do,” Spratley said moments after the win. “We were looking to put all of us in the finals.”

Seeing a wrestler frustrated after winning a big match would be less confusing for someone that hasn’t been around John Smith and the culture he’s created at OSU. I witnessed Alex Dieringer appear even angrier than Spratley after winning a Big 12 title. And the media has talked to an irritated Smith more often than not after wins.

Guys in that room expect more like their coach does, even in victories. Four finalists might not be enough to beat Iowa State this weekend. A 2-1 sudden-victory win because of a stalling call won’t beat Penn State or Iowa wrestlers in two weeks. It will take more than that, and Smith’s team is striving to get to more.

5. ‘It Was a Good Day’

It wasn’t a perfect day for the Cowboys, but it was definitely a good day.

OSU is in a tight team race with ISU that it can still win Sunday. The Cowboys still have all of their lineup alive, too, to help with that comeback. And with all 10 wrestlers surviving Day 1, OSU will also take its whole roster to Kansas City for the NCAA Wrestling Championships.

All season this team has done just enough to reach success — whether that’s sudden-victory wins or getting back into the starting lineup. And the Cowboys did just that Saturday. They weren’t spectacular, yet, the Pokes can still end their two-year drought without a Big 12 title.

“It was a good day,” Smith said to conclude his media availability when the day was over.

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