At the Junior National Wrestling Duals, Oklahoma rarely takes center stage until the Greco-Roman portion of the event is over and the freestyle tournament begins.
Things have changed this year.
Oklahoma cruised to first place in Pool D on Wednesday — defeating Kansas Red 57-8, New York 55-19, and Maryland 51-14 at Oklahoma City University’s Freede Center.
“There is a lot of pressure on our kids with this tournament being in Oklahoma,” said head Greco-Roman coach Tony Cook. “But they came out today wrestled loose and let it fly. It’s been a few years since we’ve made the final eight in Greco-Roman, and I’ve been doing this 10 or 11 years and this is the first time we’ve done it by winning our pool.”
Illinois, Utah, and Minnesota Blue also won an eight-team pool and will join Oklahoma in the final eight All-American placement duals on Thursday. Florida, Iowa, Maryland, and Michigan Blue advanced by finishing second in pool competition.
“We’ve had more kids active in Greco-Roman that have come up through the system, but still most of these kids haven’t done it much,” Cook said. “We’re just a more talented group this year, so they’re capable. They’ve really come together as a team. A lot of these kids have wrestled on these teams together since they were small, and they’ve really bonded.”
Oklahoma took 12 of 15 matches from Maryland to win the Pool D championship, including key wins from two-time state champion Kaid Brock of Stillwater and four-time state champion Gary Wayne Harding of Collinsville.
“(Brock) and (Harding) are two that haven’t wrestled a lot of Greco, and they beat returning All-Americans in Greco from Maryland,” Cook said. “We had won eight of the first 10 matches going into those weights, so the momentum for us kind of built up and we were all pulling for each other. They’re just preforming really well.”
Also against Maryland, Westmoore’s Dalton Duffield defeated Ryan Friedman 12-5 at 120 pounds. Duffield competed at one of the toughest weight classes in the state as a sophomore last season, taking third place at 120 pounds in the Class 6A state tournament.
“Wrestling against guys like (Sand Springs’) Daton Fix and (Broken Arrow’s) Markus Simmons during the high school season prepares you for this because you’re already used to wrestling national-level competition,” Duffield said. “I was nervous for my match, because I knew my opponent had been a double All-American in the past. But when we’re all winning it kind of calmed me down.”
Oklahoma will now compete in a four-team round robin on Thursday with Iowa, Florida, and defending champion Illinois. The winner of the pool will move on to the championship dual.
“The goal is to win the tournament,” Cook said. “Right now, you obviously have to say Illinois is the favorite. But for the first time in a while I definitely feel like we can compete with them on that level.”