|John Smith rolls with Zack Esposito|
Stillwater, Okla. - It's the talk of this town, at least for a day. On Saturday, January 11, the entire U.S. wrestling community, as well as sports fans from Iowa and Oklahoma, are looking forward to the showdown between No. 1 Oklahoma State and No. 2 Iowa in college wrestling on Sunday. The match is just a few hours away, and, at least around Stillwater, people are getting excited. The word around the athletic complex at Oklahoma State is that over 9,000 tickets have already been bought for the showdown. The OSU athletic department has been advertising that people should buy their tickets early, to avoid long lines at the door for the 2:00 p.m. match. The match mentioned in the media, and people know it is coming.
We are told the record crowd for wrestling at the new Gallagher-Iba Arena was 10,800 for an Oklahoma dual a year back. With a capacity of thousands more that that, the thought is that a new record could be established tomorrow. A large group of Iowa fans are expected, and Oklahoma State is expecting one of its stronger local turnouts. Oklahoma State had a 3:00 p.m. workout, with the team's starters and coaching staff getting in the final preparations for the dual. Some athletes were drilling with coaches or teammates, while others rode the stationary bike or hit the heavy punching bag. Head coach John Smith was rolling around with super freshman Zack Esposito, giving him some pointers and helping him with some of his bottom wrestling. Assistant coach Mark Branch was busy giving some pinning advice to Chris Pendleton. It was certainly a practice concentrating on each individual, a chance to get the final kinks worked out before the big show. Iowa had their workout a few hours early, and they were nowhere in sight at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Nobody seemed to know where in town Iowa was staying, and those affiliated with the Cowboys really didn't care. One thing the OSU wrestlers know: when it is time to wrestle, Iowa will be there and they will be ready.
|Mark Branch teaches Chris Pendleton|
With Gallagher-Iba empty, except for a few OSU staffers rolling out the mats and setting up the chairs, the place was very quiet, the calm before the storm. One thing is for certain. This will be a tremendous showcase for college wrestling's most important event this year (until the NCAA Tournament). It starts with the new Oklahoma State wrestling room, which holds three large orange mats and is among the most impressive workout rooms around. The history of OSU wrestling is on display, with impressive displays of the great champions of the past. There are the names of all the Oklahoma State greats on the wall, from NCAA champions, conference champion, NCAA All-Americans listed side-by-side. Add to that the lists of Olympic champions, World champions, Goodwill Games champion, U.S. Nationals champions, USA wrestling age-group champions. Then in the lobby is a bio of every OSU wrestler who is now enshrined in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. Pat Smith, Oklahoma State's winningest wrestler, the first four-time NCAA champion, is willing to give a tour of the new Gallagher-Iba facility. He shows off the impressive weight room in the basement, right near where the former wrestling room was located. He gives a tour of the state-of-the art football locker rooms and offices. The new large wrestling head coach office is equally impressive, looking out over the football stadium from the end zone. He then shows off Heritage Hall, the expansive new Cowboy Hall of Fame. Pat Smith was inducted into this fraternity of Oklahoma State sports greats this year, a major honor at this school. In showing off the displays, it is very clear that wrestling is the most prominent of all sports here. When displaying history, wrestling has earned the most prominent space of honor at this college.
The new Gallagher-Iba Arena has an additional level of seating on top, an amazing project of design and vision. What was once a small arena for college sports is now big enough to compare with others on the Div. I level. If the wrestling community and the OSU community decide to buy in, the arena could be mostly full and very loud for match time. In recent decades, it has been Iowa which has dominated college wrestling. But go back over time, and Oklahoma State has the most NCAA team titles ever, not just in wrestling, but in all sports. A total of 30 times OSU has won the NCAA wrestling title. For Cowboy fans, it has been too long since the last title, and they are cautiously feeling that another might just be possible this year. A win over Iowa on Sunday would go a long way towards building confidence in the dream that this might be the year. Pat Smith feels good about this team, and hopes for the best on Sunday. "They are tough kids," he says. "This is one of the best groups I've ever seen."
|rolling out the mats|
A special reunion of athletes who were affiliated with OSU wrestling legend Myron Roderick is being held this weekend. These are all teammates of Myron's or athletes who wrestled for him when he was a championship coach. The group of 30 athletes, with wives and families, shared a dinner together. Current head coach John Smith addresses this group of wrestling alumni, many who competed on one of the 10 NCAA champion teams that Roderick was involved with. Many were NCAA individual champions themselves. Smith tells them that his current wrestlers "know our tradition." He says that living up to the legacy is difficult but inspiring. "They know you guys and it is something they are very proud of." The neat thing is that the opponent, Iowa, has a similar legacy of excellence. This is the ultimate battle of college wrestling's two best programs. Anything is possible. History awaits. "Both teams are wrestling at their best at this point," John Smith says. How many people we be here on Sunday? Only 11 hours to go.