Favored Oklahoma State takes early lead at NCAA meet

Thursday, March 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Oklahoma State started strong in its bid for a 31st NCAA wrestling championship on Thursday, surviving several upset scares and taking the early team lead as eight of its 10 wrestlers advanced to the second round.

``We had some tough matches,'' Cowboys coach John Smith said. ``That just reminds us that you've got to be good and ready every time out.''

Two-time defending champion Minnesota advanced six of its eight wrestlers _ including defending national champions Jared Lawrence at 149 pounds and Luke Becker at 157 pounds _ and was in a three-way tie for fifth after the first round.

Lehigh was second, Illinois was third, Oklahoma was fourth, and Iowa and Michigan State were tied with the Golden Gophers.

Beyond a mention of police, firefighters and military personnel before the national anthem, there were few signs of the war in Iraq at the meet.

``I think it's always in the back of everyone's mind,'' Edinboro wrestler Matt R. King said, ``but you have to go on with your own life and pray for the best outcome. I don't think we should all sit around and get upset stomachs over what might happen, because who knows how long this is going to last?''

The Cowboys' first-round victors included defending 133-pound champion Johnny Thompson, who defeated Wisconsin's Tom Clum 8-0.

``It feels good,'' Thompson said. ``It's good to get out there and shake the rust off.''

Of the Cowboys' two first-round defeats, Smith was most disappointed with eighth-seeded Skyler Holman's tiebreaker loss to Cleveland State's Rocco Mansueto.

After overtime ended with the score tied at 6, Holman was unable to escape from Mansueto within the required 30 seconds.

``I'm totally disappointed with the way he finished that match,'' Smith said. ``Now we'll just have to see if he can help us the rest of the way through.''

The Cowboys narrowly avoided upset losses to unseeded wrestlers in two other divisions.

Second-seeded Zack Esposito was able to fend off a late takedown try by Millersville's Derek Sola and escape with a 5-3 victory in the 141-pound class, and fifth-seeded Jerrod Sanders scored a 2-point reversal with 3 seconds left to beat George Mason's Rob Becker.

``It looks like Oklahoma State's good wrestlers were a little tight, and our wrestlers were looser,'' Minnesota coach J Robinson said. ``I think that could be to our advantage.''

Smith, though, said his team was no tighter than any other.

``I'd say about 90 percent of the teams here are tight in the first round,'' he said. ``That's just the way it is.''

Fourth-ranked Lehigh lost potential points even before the meet started, when 133-pounder Cory Cooperman failed to make weight Thursday morning. He had been the sixth seed.