The Oklahoma Sooners wrestling team overcame plenty of obstacles to arrive at the Big 12 Championships this year.
Returning to the BOK Center in Tulsa, OK, the Sooners will be vying for not only conference titles, but invites to the NCAA tournament.
Navigating through the struggles of COVID-19, no member of the team felt the effects more than head coach Lou Rosselli.
“It was really just COVID that was tough on us, it was the contact tracing,” he said. “I think contact tracing was worse for me particularly than anything else because if somebody got it and they trained or traced to somebody it was like, ‘there you go, you’ve got another 14 days’.”
As the season went on, things got easier for the team Rosselli said, and the preparation for the Big 12 Championships hasn’t been that different.
“I would say the testing is going to be different,” he said. “As soon as we get there, we’re going to come in, test, and everyone’s got to provide a negative test and so I think the protocols of testing, I think it’s four times. We tested on Friday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday again, so I think the testing is a lot different.
“The training and everything else seems to be the same. It was a little bit different at the beginning when you had to put people into pods and separate running groups and have different weight lifting groups, but I think we’re ironing it out and we’re getting a good handle on it.”
Junior 197-pounder Jake Woodley agreed, saying he felt most things about the weekend would be the same.
“I think the only difference is really the testing. I don’t think it’s really gonna bother me, we get tested a few times a week anyways,” he said. “I think the wrestling is about the same as it was last year with timing, with weigh-ins, with the different sessions and stuff. I don’t think it’s going to be too much different, just a little testing which shouldn’t be a problem.”
After the team has been able to settle in, Rosselli said he’s happy with how they are shaping up heading into the weekend’s championships.
“I think the team’s doing really well. Obviously it’s crunch time, we’re tapering down, but I think all year we worked them to death and now they’re having a chance to be a little fresher and normal,” he said. “Obviously if we don’t wrestle well at the Big 12’s then there is no national tournament. We’re doing everything in our power to get them ready for that event and to get our mind ready for the fight and make sure that they’re not all banged up.”
Woodley enters the weekend with revenge on the mind, hoping to pick up some wins that escaped him during the regular season.
“I’m excited for the Big 12’s because I’ve had a couple of losses this year, but I’d like to avenge some of them,” Woodley said. “I’ve had like three Big 12 losses, three or four, I’d like to avenge that. It’s my third year in the starting lineup so I’ve been to the Big 12’s a couple of times. Both years I’ve qualified outright for nationals, so looking to qualify again and hopefully get a Big 12 title.”
While Woodley has two prior years of experience to lean on, freshman heavyweight Josh Heindselman is attacking his first ever Big 12 Championships.
“You can’t psych yourself out, you’ve just got to treat it like any other match,” the 285-pound Heindselman said. “Take it one match at a time, don’t look ahead, just be ready to wrestle. Obviously I don’t know if I’ve wrestled in anything as big as the Big 12’s, but everybody’s wrestled in some high profile matches so it’s nothing too new.”
Rosselli said he’s excited to see how the freshman reacts on the big stage.
“He’s seeded fourth so it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table. I think he’s capable of beating any guy in the weight class and it’s one takedown away in almost any of those matches. He should be fun to watch,” Rosselli said. “I think that one of his best assets is the energy he puts into a wrestling match. I think he expects himself to win.”
Heindselman has his eyes on a rematch with the 1-seed Gannon Gremmel from Iowa State. Losing to Gremmel in the regular season in a tiebreaker, Heindselman thinks he has what it takes to win a second battle.
“Last time he beat me in tiebreaker… I just need to push the pace more, stay on him more,” Heindselman said. “I had him tired, but I think I got tired my self and wore out. I just gotta stay on him the whole time.”
Preliminary and quarterfinal matches start at 11 a.m. Saturday morning, as the Sooners start their quest to snap Oklahoma State’s eight-year team title streak. Semi-final and consolation matches will begin at approximately 5 p.m. Saturday evening. Sunday, the consolation, third place and fifth place matches will begin at 10 a.m., with the championship rounds slated to start at 5 p.m.
All rounds except for the championship can be found on ESPN+, with the championships being broadcast on ESPN2 Sunday evening.