No. 18 Oklahoma returns to the mat for the first time since its crushing Dec. 12 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma State this weekend at the Virginia Duals.
We’ve been busy working, now it’s time to make it count. Wheels up for Virginia tomorrow 🛫 pic.twitter.com/F0S6Hfvjap— Oklahoma Wrestling (@OU_Wrestling) January 12, 2022
OU (2-2, 2-1) aims to get back on track in Hampton, Virginia, after a month-long break from competitive action. Since their 31-3 Bedlam thrashing, the Sooners have focused on “wrestling longer, drilling more and running harder,” according to head coach Lou Rosselli.
“I mean, for us, it's just competing to the best of our abilities,” Rosselli said. “If we can get everybody at the right weight classes and competing at a high level, then we'll do really well....They have the skill sets, and they worked really hard in the last four weeks. I think you’ll see a better product going forward.”
Oklahoma will have a chance to showcase its “better product” this weekend when it competes in four matches, beginning at 12 p.m. CT on Friday, Jan. 14. OU’s first matchup will be against Lock Haven University, which enters with a 3-4 record, most recently landing a top-5 finish at the David Lehman F&M Open. The Sooners previously kicked off the 2019 Virginia Duals with a 23-13 victory over the Bald Eagles.
Following its match against Lock Haven, Oklahoma will meet Kent State on Friday afternoon before facing Virginia and Maryland on Saturday.
Redshirt senior Dom Demas will look to bounce back in his second appearance of the season following a 9-3 loss to Oklahoma State’s Kaden Gfeller on Dec. 12. Demas, a two-time Big 12 champion in the 141-pound class, made his season debut in the 149-pound class against the Cowboys after missing the Sooners’ first five contests.
When asked what weight class the Columbus, Ohio, native would compete in this weekend, Rosselli said “It’s still 50-50,”but added “I think he can win the title at 141.”
Redshirt sophomore Josh Heindselman comes into the meet on the heels of an impressive victory over OSU sophomore Luke Surber. No. 27 Heinselman was the only OU wrestler to notch a victory in the Bedlam bout.
The Piedmont native, who is 7-5 this season, will attempt to continue his solid start to the Sooners 2021-22 campaign.
“In the last few weeks Josh has looked fantastic,” Rosselli said. “I'm excited to see where he's going to be this weekend, to see what he kind of can do. When you put a little more weight on and get a little stronger it gets a little bit easier.”
The rest of OU’s squad must improve from the Sooners’ previous match in order to push the team into national contention.
Rosselli also acknowledged that senior Mitch Moore, redshirt senior Joey Prata, graduate Justin Thomas and redshirt senior Jake Woodley are on the cusp of reaching their full potential. All four veteran wrestlers are ranked in the Top 25 of their weight classes.
No. 14 Mitch Moore has had a successful year in the 149-pound class, but has missed time due to an injury suffered in the Cliff Keen Invitational. No. 22 Joey Prata, OU’s representative in the 125-pound class, has not been consistently fundamentally sound according to Coach Rosselli.
Rosselli is confident that 157-pounder Thomas and 197-pounder Woodley can compete with the top wrestlers in the country, but admitted that both wrestlers need to be more prepared against top tier opponents.
“They're in the thick of it,” Rosselli said of the steadily improving quartet “They’re very close, so I'm hopeful that they want it as much as I want it for them.”
What those wrestlers need to improve, according to Rosselli, is their mental toughness. The Sooners’ coach is focused on “sharpening the sword” to prepare his team for the NCAA Championships, and every dual is an opportunity to do so.
“As we get closer to the nationals, you have to keep sharpening the blade,” Rosselli said. “Winning is habitual, the more you do it, the easier it is to do.”
A strong outing at the Virginia Duals would wash away the taste of OU’s struggles against the Cowboys.
As 2022 progresses, confidence will remain a key factor for the Sooners, who took a step forward with their co-Big 12 title alongside OSU last season, but have more they’d like to accomplish.
“The higher the expectation, the bigger the standard,” Rosselli said. “This is OU. There’s an expectation here to win.”