The practices are different. McCasland Field House’s doors won’t be open to the public, but a new wrestling season is upon Oklahoma.
And coach Lou Rosselli, entering his fifth year with the program, is merely grateful for the sport’s return.
“Every competition we get off,” Rosselli said, “it will be a good one.”
Of course, the Sooners’ 2019-20 campaign was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Six of OU’s 2021 wrestlers, who qualified for last year’s NCAA championships, were left without a postseason. Also, while the NCAA didn’t provide an extra year of eligibility to winter sport student-athletes as it did their spring-sport counterparts, OU returns all but one wrestler that saw action last season.
There are still sacrifices OU’s wrestling program will make.
The Sooners’ 2021 slate won’t be as long as others. OU’s had anywhere from 12 to 19 regular-season duals since Rosselli arrived. The Sooners will have just 10 between tonight and Feb. 21 before the Big 12 championships are scheduled to begin on March 6 in Tulsa.
OU’s first opponent, No. 11 Arizona State, will at least provide the No. 19 Sooners with a top-25 matchup to start the year. But there won’t be any tournaments before the postseason, adding to the importance of each dual.
“They’re not going to get that many matches, so development gets a little stagnant because you didn’t get to compete,” Rosselli said. “But we’re trying to maximize [our schedule], and we’re doing the best we can with it.
“You got high-profile Arizona State, we got Oklahoma State twice, Iowa State and Northern Iowa. So, we got a lot of good teams that we’re going to compete against just to get ready for the NCAA championships.”
Preparing for the abbreviated schedule hasn’t decreased during the pandemic. Rosselli said the Sooners have had to split up into smaller running and weightlifting groups, but they’ve still been afforded the same amount of practice as normal.
It’s benefitted Rosselli that his starting lineup is littered with experience, as well as talent.
The Sooners are projected to start six ranked wrestlers — No. 6 Dom Demas (141 pounds), No. 6 Anthony Mantanona (174), No. 10 Tony Madrigal (133), No. 13 Mitch Moore (149), No. 13 Jake Woodley (197) and No. 16 Justin Thomas (157).
“It’s definitely been very helpful … having guys that have a better understanding of it and know what college wrestling is like,” Rosselli said.
OU’s clash with Arizona State is a bit of an anomaly, though, compared to the rest of its schedule.
Following the Sooners’ tilt with the Sun Devils, they will head to Morgantown, West Virginia, for a tri-dual with the Big 12’s Mountaineers and Bucknell on Jan. 17. The following Sunday, they will have another three-team meet with Iowa State and Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Three weeks after that, OU will travel to Fresno, California, for a quad event with Cal State-Bakersfield, Oregon State and host Fresno State.
Multi-team events were the best route to get some semblance of a season, as well as to prepare for the NCAA championships after a two-year break.
Rosselli, like everyone else, just wants no delays.
“We’re hopeful that every week in and week out, our COVID testing is good and we’re hoping that we can compete,” Rosselli said. “… It’s exciting, you know, that we’re this close and I think things are gonna happen.”