NORMAN — The wrestling landscape in Norman is not what it was. For the first time in a long time, Norman North’s wrestling squad heads into tonight’s Crosstown Clash a clear underdog.
When Norman High beat North last year for the first time since 1997, it was a milestone win for the Tigers in a dual between two similarly matched teams. And, while both teams have plenty of youth on the roster, it’s undeniably North, under first-year coach Greg Henning, that has a longer way to go.
The gulf between the two programs was evident last weekend at the Putnam City Invitational. North was able to put six wrestlers into the top six of their weight class, and sophomore Hayden Hansen won at 126 pounds, but NHS performed even better. The Tigers had 11 wrestlers place in the top six, led by Cale Stumpff winning at 195 pounds and Isaiah Davis taking second at 152.
“We definitely feel like we’re the underdogs this year,” said Henning, whose team is looking to avoid back-to-back losses to NHS for the first time in program history. “We’ll do our best, and if we have a little luck here and there, we can be in the match.”
Henning has stressed to his team that the dual isn’t anything but one more early season match. But the history of the series, in which North leads 13-2, hasn’t escaped the Timberwolves’ minds.
“The kids have been talking about it for a few weeks,” Henning said. “It’s not more important than any other dual to me, but it is for them. It would be nice to get a win since they’re close to us and it’s a rivalry, but it doesn’t make or break our season.”
It’s the same story at NHS, where coach Bo Maynes is more interested in how his team progresses throughout the year than he is in any one dual, even if it’s the Clash. With a program that grew this year to more than 50 grapplers and only three seniors among his top 14 guys, Maynes is working to develop the young talent on hand.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys in this year, and there’s a lot of teaching going on,” he said. “Right now, we want to develop their technique and character and build a united team.”
The Tigers may be young, but they aren’t inexperienced, a benefit Maynes hopes to leverage this season. Even so, he’s still looking for his team to mature into their roles as the season goes on.
“Even though we have a lot of experience, we’re still looking for consistency across the weights,” he said. “It’s all about showing improvement over the year.”
While the coaches aren’t putting much on the dual, their wrestlers are a different story.
“I’m pumped,” Hansen said. “This is the most exciting dual of the year, no doubt. We’ve talked about how the streak was broken last year, and we want to start it back up again. Losing last year made us work harder, and hopefully we can pull out the win this year.”
Corbin HoslerFollow me @Chosler88chosler@normantranscript.com