Wrestling prepares for Big 12 Tournament

On the eve of one of the most important weekends in the history of MU wrestling, coach Brian Smith said it was business as usual.

"This is how you get to (the NCAA Tournament)," Smith said. "It's kind of like a mini-nationals, and the top three seeds in each weight class advance. In practice we've been doing what we always do."

Despite the perfunctory practice routine, this weekend will be anything but ordinary as MU prepares to host the Big 12 Tournament tomorrow in the Hearnes Center. No. 1 Oklahoma State enters as the favorite and will undoubtedly give the Tigers the most trouble. MU lost to Oklahoma State 32-6 on Dec. 1, the Tigers' sole loss in the Big 12.

"If you go on paper, Oklahoma State's supposed to win," senior Mark Bader said. "But that's why you wrestle."

With a roster full of talent, the Cowboys are ranked in nearly every weight class, and have won four of the six previous championships.

The Tigers' challenges do not end there, however. The other two championships were claimed by No. 20 Oklahoma, formerly ranked third, who gave the Tigers a difficult match in late January. In addition, No. 19 Iowa State will pose match-up problems for the Tigers in several weight classes. Finally, No. 16 Nebraska will be aching for a rematch after a Jan. 31 loss.

Smith said the competition will be good for MU.

"That's why we put together a tough schedule, so that when we wrestle the conference tournament, we're ready for it," Smith said.

Rather than simply a warm-up for the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 Tournament will feature some of the best wrestlers in the nation. Out of the 10 weight classes, more than 20 Big 12 wrestlers are ranked in the top 10.

"It's way more than a warm-up," Bader said. "This is a qualifying tournament, and every team is coming here expecting to win."

Despite facing a rash of injuries near the end of the season, junior Jeremy Spates said the team will be ready on Saturday.

"We're healing fast" everybody's patched back together," Spates said.

Although the Tigers took a tumble in the rankings toward the end of the season, after being ranked as high as No. 9 at one point, Smith said there is no way to predict the outcome of this tournament.

"I won't make any predictions," Smith said. "What I do predict is some great wrestling."

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