STILLWATER — Don't mistake John Smith's confidence as arrogance.
The Oklahoma State wrestling coach was unflinching when responding to questions about the National Duals North Regional the Cowboys will compete in Sunday in Kent, Ohio, with the winner advancing to the NWCA Mat Mayhem final round in Minneapolis.
Of the four teams Oklahoma State will face — Kent State, Northern Iowa and Wisconsin — none quite match up to the Cowboys' resume. OSU enters the dual qualifier with a No. 1 seed and national ranking as the last undefeated program in the country.
“I don't see a threat,” Smith said. “You don't want to be overconfident, but at this point, the teams that are there have got some good wrestlers; there's going to be some good matchups. But we'll do well if we wrestle. That could change quickly. Anybody can be in a match if you're competing at a high level.”
As is the norm for a Smith-coached team in Stillwater, sights are ultimately set on the NCAA Championships in March. But that doesn't mean the Cowboys will lack focus this weekend. With eight wrestlers ranked inside the top 15 of their respective weight class, the National Duals are a chance to test their skills against elite talent outside the Big 12.
“The National Duals do two things for you,” Smith said. “One, more than likely you're going to hit competition that you're going to see in the quarterfinals and the semifinals of the national tournament. You get to see them, and you get a feel for where you're at and what you need to do individually. And two, it gives you an opportunity to do good things for your program. When you win this event, it's a plus — in recruiting and every way as you go down the stretch.”
For Chris Perry, a 174-pound junior, it's a chance at redemption — in more ways than one. He's fresh off an upset loss to Missouri's Todd Porter on Feb. 1. And Perry has witnessed the Cowboys' last two failed attempts at winning the National Duals title.
“It's got to always fuel you,” Perry said. “I've been there twice now and we've been close both times. One time we got upset and last year we lost (heavyweight Alan Gelogaev) right before (the final). We're a different team this year. We're motivated. It's the National Duals. If you can't get hyped up for that, then I don't know what it takes. It's a big dual meet. We're fired up about it.”
The Cowboys begin the regional qualifying round at noon Sunday against Kent State. The dual will be broadcast live on 93.7 KSPI FM.