The Cowboys had an interesting Southern Scuffle this past weekend, finishing second behind Penn State.
I thought I’d give my five thoughts on how it went.
1. This “brand” of OSU wrestling is a better one
I’m about as big a Dean Heil advocate as there is. I really think he is one of the all-time great Cowboys, and if it weren’t for a rule change that forced him to completely change his style of wrestling, he probably would’ve been a three time NCAA champion. That said, he had a lot of low scoring matches and those weren’t always the most exciting. A number of other guys on the team in previous years were similar. This current group doesn’t do that. It’s a lot of point scoring, a lot of offense, a lot of very exciting stuff. They constantly wrestle to score, even when they’re up, they go for more to get bonus, they aren’t afraid to go after big point moves, but they keep it controlled and it’s just a lot of fun to watch. There’s been a spark with this group — maybe it’s the retooled/younger staff? maybe it’s some of the new blood in the room — it’s hard to tell. But they’re bringing some heat and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
2. Derek White is back to heavyweight title contender status
When Derek White lost to freshman phenom Gable Steveson he dropped in a lot of national rankings. Some wrote him off as a title contender. But Derek put himself right back in that conversation with his tournament win here. By beating Anthony Cassar he’s in a very good spot. The only major test I see left on his schedule is vs. Iowa’s Sam Stoll at the end of the year in GIA. If he can win that, which it may not even happen as Stoll has only wrestled three times this season, White will have seeding criteria over everyone at the NCAA tournament except Steveson. That’s big.
3. OSU didn’t beat Penn State, but it certainly bloodied its nose
Coming in down three starters with Weigel, Lewallen, and Shomers out, and leaving with even more after Brock and Rogers were hurt, the Cowboys weren’t in a great position to knock off the defending champs. They beat them in most of the areas that Oklahoma State fans realistically hoped it would compete in. Nobody’s slowing down Jason Nolf or Bo Nickal, and thankfully they’re gone next year, but Derek White beat both of their top heavyweights soundly, an unexpected but pleasant outcome. Some thought Roman Bravo Young could be in a similar category to Daton Fix, he’s good, but it seems clear he’s not on the level of a Daton Fix who really was never even touched in a tournament where RBY finished 3rd. Kaden Gfeller, who seemed to start the season as a backup 141, has now beat both the starter at 141 and starter at 149 for PSU. Even Dusty Hone, who has been on a mission trip and didn’t wrestle or even really work out during that time period, nearly beat their starter at 149. Then you have Joe Smith, who really looked the part of a guy that could beat one of their NCAA champions. Again they are very, very good this year, but it’s not difficult to argue that OSU’s younger guys “looked” better this weekend and their performance as a whole with the exception of injuries was a lot more impressive.
4. If Rogers and Brock are out …
The early injuries the Cowboys suffered this season have been tough to see. Losing two All-Americans with Boo Lewallen and Preston Weigel right out the gate, then eventually another NCAA qualifier in Andrew Shomers. is not good. OSU was pretty deep at those sizes and able to maneuver and fix those gaps, though. There’s not an especially clear solution in my opinion with Rogers/Brock getting hurt at the Scuffle. At 141, Mike Magaldo is a pretty good solution, but he injury-defaulted out at Reno also and I’m not sure on his status. Kaden Gfleller could return to 141 and Dusty Hone could enter as the starter at 149. If Rogers is out my guess is one of Wyatt Sheets and Jonce Blaylock bump up. Sheets would be a small 65, but if Shomers comes back I think Blaylock has a frame that could handle 165 if needed. Most of the other options at these weights are redshirts. Hopefully guys start coming back and this doesn’t turn out to be as big an issue as it could be, but the Cowboys are really banged up right now.
5. These guys are having fun
Similar to the new “brand” of wrestling we’re seeing, I don’t know if it’s the younger staff or maybe just the personality of the younger guys on the team, but it’s clear the tone in the room and program has shifted and that’s a positive thing. Wrestling is an incredible grind, everyone knows that. It’s the toughest sport out there. The travel, the practices, weight cutting, and everything else that goes into this sport is difficult. At the end of the day it should still be “fun”. And a team that has that is much more likely to be successful. That doesn’t mean these guys shouldn’t be focused on their goals, working hard and doing all the right things that they need to in order to reach them. If they want to win they have to do that. They can still have a good time in that process. I think that’s what’s going on here.