B12 Wrestle Champ March 09

Big 12 champion Dom Demas of Oklahoma is 29-7 and seeded No. 9 in the 141-pound bracket at the NCAA Championships in Pittsburgh. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World file

Oklahoma finishes in fourth place

They made a charge at third, but in the end, the Oklahoma Sooners fell a bit short and placed fourth Sunday at the Big 12 Wrestling Tournament.

OU finished with 78 points, just four back of third-place Northern Iowa and well ahead of fifth-place Fresno State with 59.5.

After finishing sixth last year, the Sooners had one individual champion (Dom Demas at 141 pounds), one runner-up (Justin Thomas at 157) and two third-place finishers, qualifying five wrestlers into the NCAA Tournament, March 21-23 in Pittsburgh.

“We kind of came together as a group, everybody’s been supporting each other, being behind has kind of lit a little fire beneath us,” said Davion Jeffries, a former high school champion from Broken Arrow who placed third at 149 pounds. “We’ve been on each other about practice, so it’s kind of helped us here.”

Seedings not as important this year

At the 2018 Big 12 meet, the pre-tournament seedings ended up being very accurate. Eight of 10 weight brackets featured the No. 1 seed in the final round, with six of them winning individual championships.

The four brackets that a No. 1 seed didn’t win saw the No. 2 seed victorious. In the two weights that the No. 1 seed didn’t reach the final, they won the consolation brackets to place third. All runners-up and third place finishers were seeded No. 4 or higher.

This year, the seedings were not quite as predictive of the eventual outcomes. Yes, eight No. 1 seeds made the final round again and six prevailed, but two No. 5 seeds made the finals, and two 3 seeds won championships. Where the seedings were really off were in the consolation brackets, as the third-placers ranged from No. 1 (Northern Iowa’s Josh Alber at 141 pounds) to No. 7 (Alex Mossing of Air Force at 157), with two No. 6s and two No. 5s as well.

“Basically, my motto is, seeding doesn’t matter,” said OU’s Jeffries, the No. 6 seed at 149 pounds, who placed third after defeating the No. 2, 5 and 4 seeds in the consolation bracket. “I take one match at a time, who I got is who I step across that line with and we’re going to go toe-to-toe until the end of the match.”

Affiliate members shine

This was the fourth season that the Big 12 included affiliate members in the conference just for wrestling, and the newcomers have made for a healthier competition.

Six affiliate members first participated in the 2016 Big 12 Tournament, bringing the full roster from a mere four teams to 10, and then Northern Iowa and Fresno State were added last year to make it a full 12 squads.

Northern Iowa, ranked No. 14, finished as runner-up in 2018 and placed third this year, while Fresno State, after coming in 11th last year, ended up fifth, followed by Utah Valley in sixth and Wyoming in seventh.

“They’ve added a lot and I think if you look, in our conference, for years, we’ve had the most qualifiers ever (to the NCAA tournament),” Oklahoma State coach John Smith said. “Of course, we’ve got more teams and that helps, but we had Utah Valley on the stand tonight, that tells you a little bit about the strength of these programs and the challenges. I think we’re going to end up with way more All-Americans than we had last year. It’s going to get stronger, there’s no question, and that’s what we want.”

One of the final round’s most exciting matches was the 165-pound final between Demetrius Romero of Utah Valley and North Dakota State’s Andrew Fogarty, which Romero ended up winning 8-6 in sudden victory overtime.

Drew Foster of Northern Iowa also won an individual championship at 184 pounds, beating Iowa State’s Sam Colbray 4-1 in the final.

— John Tranchina, for the Tulsa World