With eight qualifiers, including two former national champions, Oklahoma wrestling coach Mark Cody is confident the Sooners can be a major factor at the NCAA championships.
OU, the tournament’s host school, is healthy for the first time in months.
“Our goal is to finish on top, but if we finish anywhere in the top five you get publicity for your program because you have at least one or two guys in the semifinals, maybe the finals,” Cody said. “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t finish in the top five.”
Senior 125-pounder Jared Patterson returned for the Big 12 tournament after missing two months with a knee injury. Junior 157-pounder Justin DeAngelis was out most of February following nose surgery. Everyone is back for the national tournament.
“The bigger the tournament the better opportunity we have to score points,” Cody said. “At the Vegas tournament there were some pretty heavy hitters and we won that by a pretty good margin. All eight of our guys have had some bright spots.”
The Sooners, ranked 14th entering the tournament, are led by 149-pound junior Kendric Maple, who won the national title last season and 174-pound senior Andrew Howe, who won a national title at Wisconsin before transferring.
“They’ll both have to wrestle hard to get to the finals, but they’re two guys very capable. No stage is too big for either one of them,” said Cody, adding that Howe’s class is viewed as the toughest in the tournament.
Three other OU entries are seeded – Patterson (seeded 6th at 125 pounds); senior Travis Rutt (seeded 7th at 197) and sophomore Cody Brewer (seeded 13th at 133).
“Rutt was ranked No. 1 a lot of the year. Patterson had only one loss to the No. 1 guy in the country when he got hurt,” Cody said. “They’re both capable of making it to the finals.”
The Sooners’ other three entries include: senior Nick Lester (141 pounds), freshman Ross Larson (285) and DeAngelis.
“I think all three of them have a chance to go pretty deep into the tournament,” Cody said. “Lester is a former All-American. He’s struggled some this year but he’s a tournament-type wrestler more than duals. He was third in Vegas and beat some very good guys.
“DeAngelis wrestles so hard he’s never out of any match. Like a lot of freshmen Larson had good outings but sometimes has struggled.”
Under Cody, hired from American University three years ago, the Sooners finished 13th at nationals his first season, 12th last season.
Five of OU’s eight qualifiers are seniors, but Cody said the program is developing some depth.
“We have several guys that are redshirting this year and a top four recruiting class,” Cody said. “I think a lot of those kids will be able to step right in and help us.”