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Part 1– Match preview: No. 24 Stanford to host No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday in return of wrestling after reinstatement

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

NCAA champion Shane Griffith competing at the 2021 Menlo Open. Photo by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers Are Warriors

There will be a celebration of college wrestling on Saturday at the Maples Pavillion on the campus of Stanford University at 2:00 p.m. PT.

No. 24 Stanford wrestling, which was designated for elimination as part of a university decision to cut 11 sports, will be hosting No. 6 Oklahoma State in the first home dual meet since the program was reinstated. It is also the dual meet debut for new head coach Rob Koll, one of the most successful and respected coaches in the nation who came to Palo Alto this summer.

Numerous alumni leaders and fans who were active in the Keep Stanford Wrestling movement will be in attendance to enjoy high-level college wrestling, the exact thing that they fought so hard to preserve at Stanford.

“This weekend is a celebration. This is a season that wasn’t supposed to happen. It is kicking off on Saturday with the fourth-ranked team in the country. There is a whole bunch of excitement and momentum. We are all so happy. We will be seeing each other and celebrating and hugging it out. I am super-excited,” said Robert Hatta, a co-chair of the Keep Stanford Wrestling effort.

For college wrestling fans, a top-20 dual meet in front of a few thousands of fans is something to enjoy when they can get there. This one will be extra special, as the entire national wrestling community can feel good when a Div. I team is saved from elimination and is forming a vision of a bright future.

“The reality is I wanted to bring in a high-level team, and you have to convince someone to bring their team to Stanford in the middle of July when I got here. The season was done, teams already had schedules set. Oklahoma State was my first call, because I knew John Smith is very accommodating. John understands that you are bringing Stanford back. Stanford is the linchpin for the West,” said Koll.

Stanford returns five NCAA qualifiers from 2021, including NCAA champion Shane Griffith at 165 pounds and All-Americans Jaden Abas (7th, 2021) and Real Woods (first team NWCA, 2020).

The team is coming off the Menlo Open last week, where seven Cardinal wrestlers won titles: Abas, Griffith, plus Jackson DiSario (133), Charlie Darracott (157), Tyler Eischens (174), Nick Stemmet (197) and Peter Ming (285).

Griffith became the face of Stanford wrestling when he won the 2021 NCAA title, helping put additional national attention on the effort to retain the program. The Oklahoma State match is something that the entire team is truly looking forward to after the craziness of last season.

“I am expecting a lot of guys to have a lot of fun. We have secured our jobs again at the university. We didn’t want to see the program crumble, even after it was reinstated. It is very important for us to wear Stanford with pride again, rebuild the program back up, get more recruits and rebuild the fan base again. A lot of guys will go out there, have fun, with a lot of grit and fight. We are really excited to start the season,” said Griffith.

The No. 4 Oklahoma State team will be a huge challenge for the Cardinal. The team is projected to have a nationally ranked wrestler in every weight class, led to 2021 World silver medalist and two-time NCAA runner-up Daton Fix at 133 pounds, and A.J. Ferrari at 197 pounds, who won a 2021 NCAA title as a freshman.

“I think it is awesome. Honestly, it is great to evaluate where the guys are at, and where we need improvement. They have a great team, a bunch of ranked guys. I will have Travis Wittlake, who is a top 5 or 10 guy in the country. I think it is a good starting point. The beauty of it is that it is a long season. Wins or losses, mistakes throughout it all, we go back to the room and have five months to get ready for the NCAA and the big show. It’s a great opportunity for the fan base to start us off hot and put on a show for everyone,” said Griffith.

Part of the show that Griffith hopes to give the fans on Saturday is improvements in his wrestling abilities, which he has been working on over the summer.

“I think the main thing for me was staying more offensive. A lot of times, I conformed to a defensive wrestler. Keeping the pace at my own leisure and staying on the offense is a huge part of my wrestling game. A huge transition from high school to college is the top position. I feel I am pretty good at that now and am working to master that. I’m trying to take all the little things, not fix big things, but fine-tuning the basics, I feel it is important to master the craft. There is always room to improve in the off-season,” said Griffith.

In his 28 seasons as the head coach at Cornell, Koll coached 16 NCAA champions and 71 All-Americans, winning 20 Ivy League and 11 EIWA titles. He brings a career of experience coaching at a private university with a strong academic tradition with him.

In the short time that Koll has been at Stanford, he has been impressed with the abilities of the team and the strong foundation already set for the program by the previous coaching staff, led by head coach Jason Borrelli, who left to become the head coach at American University. Koll is willing to compare his new Stanford team with the one he developed at Cornell.

“The kids are the same. There are a lot more of them at Cornell, and a little more depth, which changes the complexion of the wrestling room. That’s the No. 1 thing we have to change. We still have the same high level, between Shane and Real and Jaden. Those guys are at as high a level as anybody we had at Cornell. We have some guys who are not too far off from that. It is not going to take too long for them to rise to the highest level. It is not as if this is going to be some remarkable transformation. I was relieved to find that out when I came on campus. There are plenty of guys here like Shane who come here to wrestle and to go to school rather than to go to school and wrestle. It might sound like the same thing but it is not.”

Bringing in a supportive crowd to this dual meet is part of plan which Koll has for the program. The goal of building a strong fan following and developing a challenging schedule is getting a kick-start with Oklahoma State coming to town.

“We want to be that West Coast Penn State or Iowa. It will take a little bit of time but not a lot of time. Every year, we will get a little bit bigger and a little bit louder. You can’t do it by getting our butts kicked by Oklahoma State. Do we have the cast of characters to knock them off? Who knows? The bottom line is you go out there, you fight, draw blood and win the matches you can win. That’s a victory,” said Koll.

Tickets remain available, with prices between $10 and $15.

Stanford vs. Oklahoma State Wrestling Tickets

Accompanying the Stanford/Oklahoma State dual, the Northern California chapter of Wrestlers in Business will host its inaugural meeting. The meeting will take place in the Maples VIP room, located on the east side of the concourse in Maples Pavilion at 12:00 noon.

Projected Stanford lineup

125- Logan Ashton, RSoph or Suhas Chundi, Soph.

133- Jackson Disario, Jr. or Jason Miranda, Soph

141- Jason Miranda, Soph or Jackson Disario, Jr

149- No. 5 Jaden Abas, RSoph or Elijah Cleaver, Soph

157- Charlie Darracott, Soph. or Fabian Santillan, Jr

165- No. 1 Shane Griffith, RJr or Tony Williams, Sr

174- HM Tyler Eischens, RJr. or Colby Harlan, RJr

184- Ethan Woods, RSr or Colby Harlan, RJr or Judah Duhm, RSr

197- Nick Stemmet, Soph

285- Peter Ming, Soph or Seamus O’Malley, Jr

Projected Oklahoma State lineup

125 - No. 19 Trevor Mastrogiovanni, Soph.

133 - No. 2 Daton Fix, RJr.

141 - No. 16 Dusty Hone, RSr. -or- Carter Young, Fr.

149 - No. 22 Kaden Gfeller, RSr.

157 - No. 14 Wyatt Sheets, RSr. or- Jalin Harper, RJr.

165 - No. 6 Travis Wittlake, RJr.

174 - No. 16 Dustin Plott, Soph.

184 - No. 7 Dakota Geer, RSr. -or- Gavin Stika, RJr.

197 - No. 1 AJ Ferrari, Soph.

HWT - No. 11 Austin Harris, RSr.-or- Luke Surber, Soph.

Note: Part 2 of this preview on Friday will look back at how Stanford saved wrestling and will look forward to the vision for the program moving forward.
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