Jack Spates’ dad was dying. His mind wasn’t quite clear.

He wondered how his son’s Oklahoma team had done at the NCAA Championships. So he asked, “How’d they do?”

“And my sister said to him, ‘What are you talking about?’” Jack Spates said. “And he said, ‘At Nationals, how’d they do?’”

This was about a month ago and of course the nationals had not yet occurred.

“So my sister, in all her brilliance, told him that we had won it,” Spates said.

She even invented some final totals.

“So he starts to become a little more lucid and he wants to know the scores,” Spates said.

Spates related this story at Wednesday’s press conference at the Ford Center. Also at the conference were Oklahoma State coach John Smith, Minnesota coach J. Robinson, Michigan coach Joe McFarland, Nebraska coach Mark Manning, Lehigh coach Greg Strobel and Illinois coach Mark Johnson.

Spates turned to his fellow coaches and announced his sister’s fictional final totals.

“We won it with 112 points,” Spates said. “John (Smith), you guys were second with 110. And J. (Robinson), you were third with 101.

“And I’d appreciate it if you guys could cooperate.”

The story gave everyone a good laugh. But when first-round matches start today at 11 a.m. at the Ford Center, the No. 1-ranked Golden Gophers and the No. 2 Cowboys will do everything in their power to make sure Jack Spates’ sister is not some sort of prophet.

Even though OSU is the three-time defending champion and Minnesota beat the Cowboys twice in duals this year, the No. 6 Sooners don’t consider this tournament a two-team race.

“I don’t believe that it is,” OU’s Teyon Ware said. “Yeah, Oklahoma State and Minnesota are the two top teams, but I think we’re right up there.”

Oklahoma has eight wrestlers competing today. That’s the same amount as Minnesota, although the Gophers have more wrestlers ranked in the top 10.

Oklahoma State qualified nine wrestlers. No. 4 Illinois is the only team to qualify all 10 of its grapplers.

“If Oklahoma State wrestles up to their seed, then, yeah, they’re going to win it,” said Missouri’s Ben Askren, who is seeded No. 1 at 174 pounds. “But if they don’t, then someone else can sneak in there.”

The Sooners figure they have enough to do some sneaking.

OU’s best bets to score points will come at 125-pounds, 141, 149, 197 and heavyweight.

Sam Hazewinkel at 125 and Ware at 141 are both seeded second, while Matt Storniolo is seeded fourth at 149. Joel Flaggert is seeded fifth at 197 and Jake Hager is seventh at heavyweight.

Will Rowe at 157, Wes Roberts at 174 and Justin Dyer at 184 are unseeded.

“The first round will be the most important round,” Ware said. “We’ll have to have guys step up. I think we can surprise some people, but we’ll have to pull some upsets.”

OU was once considered the favorite to topple the Cowboys. In at least one poll, the Sooners entered the season ranked second behind OSU. But OU dropped as low at 11th after some early season disappointments.

But it appears OU is wrestling its best right now. The Sooners enter today’s action on a roll, having finished second to OSU at the Big 12 Tournament two weeks ago, despite being the lowest ranked team in the field.

“We train to peak at this time of the year,” Spates said. “We’re doing our best wrestling right now. We’re hungry and we’re eager and we like our chances.”

Scott Moore

366-3535

sports@normantranscript.com

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