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OSU Wrestling Notebook: Clutch Cowboys, High Praise of Jordan Williams and ‘Rough Season’ for Luke Surber

‘He’s darn sure doing some things that really makes me feel good about being his coach’



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

The Cowboys are two wins away from an undefeated season.

Oklahoma State hosts No. 25 Oklahoma at 2 p.m. Sunday inside Gallagher-Iba Arena for the second round of Bedlam. Next week, the No. 2 Cowboys will welcome No. 4 Iowa for their regular-season finale in Stillwater.

With his team going 13-0 thus far, OSU coach John Smith met with media Wednesday to discuss how OSU has gotten to this point and what’s ahead. You can watch the full interviews with Smith, Daton Fix and Luke Surber here, but here are some storylines that stood out.

Clutch Cowboys

A quick look at OSU’s scores from the season may not look it, but the Cowboys have had a lot more close calls than meets the eye. Fortunately for the Pokes, though, their guy is usually the one who comes up clutch.

OSU wrestlers are 8-2 this season in dual matches that went past regulation to decide a winner. Even in what appeared to be a 31-6 blowout against South Dakota State last week, the Cowboys found themselves in three matches that went to sudden victory, winning all of them. If the script was flipped, the score would have been 22-15, still in OSU’s favor mainly thanks to a pair of falls from Jordan Williams and Izzak Olejnik. Those major bonus points have been rare for OSU this season, though.

“I think the one thing you enjoy is kids working hard to win matches,” Smith said. “I don’t have a team that’s gonna go out and get five or six tech falls, beat someone 15-0. I got a team that’s gonna have to win by one, two points. You look at some of the overtimes that we’ve had over the course of the season and that’s really lopsided toward us winning the overtimes. You know, guts. Being gutty. It’s a gutty performance. …

“Those are the exciting things that you get. It lights up the crowd, it lights up the people. I think, in general, when you’ve got four to five freshmen starting, just in general, it’s fun to watch as a fan. It’s fun to watch these kids find ways to win. It just comes back on us that we gotta remind them that’s how we’re gonna have to win — tough matches, hard matches.”

Jordan Williams Making Smith, ‘Feel Good About Being His Coach’

Last month, Smith didn’t trust Jordan Williams enough to consistently start the redshirt freshman, but during this last week, including Wednesday, there’s not a wrestler on OSU’s roster that Smith has spoken more highly of than Williams.

Williams competed with senior transfer Sammy Alvarez for the starting job at 149 pounds throughout the month of January. Although Smith still wasn’t ready to state the battle at the weight is decided, it seems Williams has won his spot back after getting the nod the past three duals and going 2-1, with his only loss coming from fourth-ranked Kyle Parco of Arizona State, 8-5. Against South Dakota State, Williams pinned No. 18 Alek Martin in the second period.

“He’s done a lot,” Smith said. “I’m not giving that spot up yet, but he’s darn sure doing some things that really makes me feel good about being his coach.”

Even before Saturday’s fall, Smith had already spoken last week about the growth he’s seen from Williams, especially off the mat, as he lost his starting job and battled to get it back. Smith, again, spoke highly of the young talent Wednesday.

“It’s nice to see people grow,” Smith said. “Sport, it’s not just about winning. It’s also about developing yourself. I think for him over the course of the last six weeks, he’s become a better person, he’s become much more disciplined, he’s taking care of his academics, taking care of some past issues that he had. That’s what’s exciting is seeing somebody grow, and while they grow, they build some confidence in themselves, and that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing a kid that’s starting to really feel confident about what he’s doing and who he is and, again, who he wants to be.”

Although Smith has elaborated the most about Williams’ growth off the mat, Sunday’s dual against OU will be a gauge on how much Williams has also developed as a wrestler. Williams lost to Willie McDougald 5-4 in the first Bedlam of the season Dec. 10 in Norman. Williams actually held a lead in the third period until he tried an acrobatic move in which he tried to flip backward out of a potential takedown, only to fall on his head and still give up the three points to lose the match. Williams should see McDougald again Sunday.

‘Rough Season’ for Luke Surber

It’s been tough sledding for Luke Surber this season.

Surber has amassed a 10-3 record while battling through multiple injuries during his senior campaign at 197 pounds. He first injured his shoulder at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational on Dec. 1, losing to No. 8 Jaxon Smith of Maryland via medical forfeit. That first injury sidelined Surber for over a month until returning Jan. 12, when he then injured his knee in a 5-2 loss to No. 15 Mac Stout of Pittsburgh. Surber has wrestled only three times since, going 2-1, and has yet to appear in back-to-back duals all season.

“It’s been a rough season for him,” Smith said. “But sometimes it gives you a chance to reevaluate a lot of things. I think, for me, watching him kind of struggling here, what I’m seeing is a guy that’s at probably one of the most competitive weight classes. Listen, everything’s OK. Once you get healed up and you get injury free and you have an opportunity to compete, just go compete. For him, he’s gotta compete at this weight. You may not have an easy match in the conference tournament, nor if they have you is it gonna be easy. Just be confident and learn how to win, and that’s what he needs to do right now. Learn how to win.”

Surber lost to NCAA runner-up and No. 6 Tanner Sloan of South Dakota State 4-0 his last outing. Although it was a loss, that match was the most Surber has looked like himself since the start of the season. Surber missed the last Bedlam but wrestling against OU on Sunday will be the first time this season he’s competed in two straight duals.

“I just remind myself that nothing really matters until March,” Surber said. “So just staying focused, taking it day by day and staying positive. Even when I am frustrated, not being frustrated with my injuries, just being frustrated I can’t wrestle, moreso, because I can’t control my injuries and stuff like that, I can just control my attitude. Really a lot of growth, mentally, I’d say of just staying positive and just being excited to go out there and compete before it gets taken away from me.”

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