A rise in talent across Oklahoma was the common theme throughout the 2013-14 high school wrestling season.
Coaches, wrestlers, and media throughout the state agreed the quality of elite wrestlers was up from recent years.
This week, the state will have a chance to display some of its top prep talent against the best from around the country during the Junior National Duals at Oklahoma City University.
The Greco-Roman tournament will be held Wednesday and Thursday with the freestyle tournament taking place Friday and Saturday at the Freede Center.
“In the last three years we’ve been sixth, second, and third in freestyle, and this is by far the most talented team that we’ve been able to assemble,” said Lawton MacArthur’s Bobby Cook, who is Oklahoma’s head freestyle coach for a fifth consecutive year. “We’re senior laden, but it’s a really good group that has had success on the national stage for a while now. We feel real good about our chances this weekend.”
Based on the previous season’s classification, the Sooner State’s roster consists of three freshman, five sophomores, seven juniors, and nine seniors. Of the 24 wrestlers on the roster, 16 won state titles last season, a number that would almost certainly be higher if some hadn’t been competing for the same title.
Of the nine seniors, six have signed with Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. Stillwater’s Chandler Rogers (170 pounds), Collinsville’s Gary Wayne Harding (132 pounds), and Berryhill’s Jonce Blaylock (145 pounds) will join the Cowboys’ program. The Dixon triplets — Lance (182 pounds), Joel (195 pounds), and Andrew (220 pounds) — are heading to OU.
From the 2015 class, Putnam City’s Keegan Moore (132 pounds) and Stillwater’s Joe Smith (152 pounds), the son of OSU coach John Smith, are promising Division-I prospects.
While Smith will almost certainly end up at OSU, Stillwater teammate Kaid Brock (126 pounds) has already verbally committed to the Cowboys.
The brightest standouts among the underclassmen are Sand Springs’ Daton Fix (120 pounds) and Heritage Hall’s Kaden Gfeller (106 pounds). Both went undefeated and claimed state titles as freshman last season.
“(Fix and Gfeller) are not only representing Oklahoma, but they represented their age group for the United States in the Pan American Games this summer and won some gold medals,” Cook said. “Daton Fix is going to wrestle at the Cadet World Championships this year in Slovakia. Kids like those two don’t come along very often.”
Oklahoma’s strength as a team has traditionally been in freestyle, but Cook expects to compete with the best in both styles this week.
“In the past we’ve taken multiple teams in freestyle and sometimes in Greco,” Cook said. “This year we decided to change things up a little bit with bringing just one team to compete in both styles. We think we can perform a lot better than we have in Greco, which we’ve really never emphasized a whole lot from a team perspective.”
One area of concern for the Oklahoma team is depth. Competing in a dual tournament with teams from California, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, and defending freestyle and Greco-Roman champion Illinois presents a challenge.
“To put things in perspective, there are more schools that offer wrestling in the city of Pittsburgh than in the entire state of Oklahoma,” Cook said. “So we don’t necessarily have the depth of the other states with bigger populations. But I feel like our top tier guys, our state champions can compete with anybody else’s state champions. As far as our tradition and our top guys, we’re second to none.”