photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com
University of Central Oklahoma
Head Coach Todd Steidley fifth season
The University of Central Oklahoma is coming off a season that saw head coach Todd Steidley crown two more All-Americans and saw the Bronchos have another double-digit wins dual season. A product of the UCO, Steidley was a two-time All-American, winning a national title as a junior. Now he has established his program as one of the toughest in the midwest and hosts one of the stronger opens to be found. Two years ago UCO finished in the top 10 at the national tournament and that is at minimum expectations for a team that will be loaded with talent in 2019. This may be the best squad that coach Steidley has assembled in his five seasons at the helm.
A 16th place team finish leaves room for improvement going into the 2019-20 season. They will return three of the four national qualifiers including All-American Heath Gray. Gray will be the leader of this team despite just entering his junior season. He will be joined by Nate Keim and Devin Crawl as the Bronchos look to bounce back from a fourth-place Super Regional finish. They will enter the season with one of the largest rosters in Division II with over 50 wrestlers packing the room. As usual, the lineup will feature a large number of in-state products and this season will include some big-name transfers. There are multiple junior college All-Americans in the room as well as wrestlers who have competed at the Division I level.
125: James Tanner Cole (R-So) Edmond, OK
James Cole took over the starting role for the Bronchos last January and I do not see him relinquishing it this season. His record may have been just 8-6 on the season, but it includes wins over true freshman All-American Cole Laya (West Liberty) and national qualifier Josiah Seaton. He also had an absolute barn-burner with Josh Portillo that saw them combine for 36 points. The two losses he took in the Super Regional that kept him from a trip to the national tournament were against Carlos Jacquez (Lindenwood) and Marcus Povlick (McKendree). He is one of the best wrestlers not currently ranked in the nation and that could change quickly this season. I expect him to be a force at 125 and a great opening act for this lineup.
133: Noah McQuigg (R-Jr) Tuttle, OK
Cody Karstetter (R-Jr) Tulsa, OK
Gage Gomez (R-Jr) Altus, OK
Noah McQuigg improved from winning just a single match as a redshirt freshman to notching 15 wins a season ago. He made the starting roster and beat national qualifier Taylor Jokerts (Maryville) in the Super Regional. McQuigg lost close matches to the top wrestlers at this weight and if he can show the same type of improvement from a year ago his ceiling is incredibly high. In high school, he was a member of the powerhouse Tuttle wrestling team that won three team titles. His 130 wins in high school show that he has the skills to be a very good wrestler, now he just needs to put it all together during a complete season. Junior College All-American Cody Karstetter will challenge McQuigg for the starter’s job. He has been on a journey that has seen him stop at North Carolina and Oklahoma in Division I before helping NE Oklahoma A&M win a JUCO team title. He saw limited action last season, but the redshirt junior may be too good to keep out of the lineup. Not only does this weight have three redshirt juniors from the state of Oklahoma battling for the starting spot, but it will also have two JUCO All-Americans. Gage Gomez finished third for Barton Community College last season and now he is ready to break into the Broncho lineup. Head coach Todd Steidley is going to have his hands full at this weight and I expect that it could down to head-to-heads at the opens.
141: #6 Nate Keim (R-So) Collinsville, OK
There may be a controversy at 133 to decide who the man is, but there is a clear front-runner at 141. Returning national qualifier Nate Keim will enter his redshirt sophomore year ready to compete for a spot on the podium. Keim finished one win away from being an All-American after winning 18 matches during the season. At times he struggled with his consistency, but he put it all together to end the season. Now it’s just building on that momentum and cleaning up some mental errors that have cost him matches in the past. The two-time Oklahoma state champion will be pivotal to the success of this lineup. He could also show improvement by scoring more bonus points in matches, his current rate of just 23% is not up to his potential.
149: Brik Filippo (So) Oklahoma City, OK
Zachary Moore (Sr) Oklahoma City, OK
There is a battle brewing in the UCO wrestling room at 149 pounds. Returning starter Brik Filippo and Division I transfer Zach Moore are both from Oklahoma City but from rival schools. Sophomore Brik Filippo just missed out on a trip to the national tournament, his overtime loss to All-American Gavin Londoff (Lindenwood) was the margin of error. He is a legacy at Central Oklahoma, his father Jimmy was an All-American for the Bronchos. The younger Flippo won 22 matches last season including a dual win over Londoff. 149 is absolutely loaded and I feel bad for the guy who has to rank it…oh wait that’s me. Zachary Moore is returning close to home to finish his wrestling career. The West Virginia transfer has been a starter for much of his career and will not want to relinquish that role. He brings with him a career record of 51-43 but is 13-1 against wrestlers not in Division I during that time. It might work for the lineup if one of them can head up to 157 and get both of these stars on the mat.
157: Ty Lucas (R-So) Ardmore, OK
The only thing that might keep Moore or Filippo from moving up is returning starter Ty Lucas. The redshirt sophomore had a very good first season in the lineup for the Bronchos winning 18 matches. After starting the season battling Filippo at 149, Lucas moved up to 157 and seemed to hit his stride. His best win of the season was a 5-3 win over national qualifier Isaiah Diggs. When you look at his resume, the one thing that sticks out to me is that he beats the wrestlers you expect him to beat. Now he just needs to notch some wins against wrestlers who when he appears to be an underdog. It was a recruiting coup for coach Steidley to get the three-time state champion on campus and this could be the year that Lucas shows how great of a move it was.
165: Wyatt Jordan (Sr) Collinsville, OK
Dayton Garrett (R-Jr) Tuttle, OK
I expected big things out of Wyatt Jordan last season after the two-time NJCAA finalist transferred from NE Oklahoma A&M to the Bronchos. His season was less than ideal as he struggled to really find his footing and whether it was an injury, growing pains, or just not being comfortable on campus, Jordan missed out on a trip to the national tournament. The senior returns looking to show that the expectations he brought with him are totally warranted. If Wyatt can regain the momentum that saw him win seven straight matches headed into the Super Regional then look out at this weight. He will have to contend with another Tuttle High School standout as Dayton Garret will be challenging him at this weight. Garret spent time at West Virginia and was the starter his true freshman season. Now in his third season with UCO he will be starting his season off at the weight he ended at last year. The three-time Oklahoma state finalist is one of those very good wrestlers that coach Steidley has accumulated and managed to keep in the room despite him not being the starter. If iron sharpens iron, UCO is sitting on the motherlode.
174: #11 Devin Crawl (Jr) Chattanooga, TN
Gage McBride (Jr) Yukon, OK
Devin Crawl qualified for the national tournament last season as a sophomore and the Tennessee native returns to the lineup ready to improve on his 10-14 record. That is correct, Crawl was a national qualifier with a below .500 record. His run to the finals at the Super Regional punched his ticket to the national tournament. Now he returns as the starter and it will be up to him to show that the confidence he built to end the season will springboard him into 2019-20. An All-American while wrestling for Neosho, Crawl has all the abilities necessary to turn in a season similar to 30 win season two years ago. Gage McBride also finished fourth in a JUCO national tournament and the Barton Community College transfer will enter the UCO room to push Crawl. While at Barton, McBride competed in the Oklahoma City University Open against now Broncho teammates. This could be one of those roster battles that comes down to early season opens and if Crawl struggles out of the gate again, he could find himself on the bench.
184: #2 Heath Gray (Jr) Chandler, OK
Heath Gray looked to be on track towards the NCAA Division II national tournament finals last season. He finished the regular season on a 17 match win streak that included two wins over eventual champion Michael Pixley. In what was an upset loss to me, Gray fell to Tony Vezzetti (Notre Dame) and was forced to battle back to take third. It should surprise no one if he finds himself in the national finals this season. The Newman transfer won 25 matches as a freshman and another 36 last season. He seems to relish the competition and I do not expect coach Steidley to lighten his workload. His only two losses a season ago were to the eventual national finalists and with the graduation of Pixley, he is clearly the second-best wrestler in the country at this weight.
197: Dalton Abney (R-Fr) Tulsa, OK
David Wright (R-Fr) Shamrock, TX
Dalton Abney was perfect during his redshirt season finishing 11-0. If you are looking for a signature win, try his 5-4 victory over Andrew Marsden (Oklahoma State). He can score bonus points as well, he racked up seven wins including six falls. 197 only returns four All-Americans and the redshirt freshman has shown he can beat some of the best the country has to offer. An athlete I would like to see in person is redshirt freshman David Wright. The Shamrock, Texas product never wrestled in high school, but apparently got lost on his way to class and ended up in the Broncho wrestling room last season. He enjoyed it so much that he competed in opens and managed a 3-6 record in his first year competing. To put that into perspective, I think I won three matches in my freshman year of college despite having been wrestling since I was 12. You cannot coach someone to be athletic, but you can coach technique. Wright literally does not have a ceiling because no one can really guess at how good he could be if he applies himself. He was a three-sport standout and now he can add a fourth.
Hwt: Christian Arriola (R-Fr) Oklahoma City, OK
Garrett Beir (R-Jr)
There will be no Blake Berryhill at this weight for UCO which means a new starter. It could very well be redshirt freshman Christian Arriola. The Oklahoma City native won a state championship as a senior after just qualifying as a junior. Last season while on his redshirt he won two matches at the Golden Norse Open by fall and finished the tournament 2-2. He will be challenged by former Oklahoma State Cowboy heavyweight Garrett Beir. The redshirt junior is now a member of the Bronchos and we will have to see if this will be a better fit. Either of them will be joining one of the deepest weight classes in the country, so any production they can generate would be welcome. Expecting either of them to be national qualifiers or All-Americans might be a big ask.