PITTSBURGH — Oklahoma State Coach John Smith has experienced an emotional roller coaster the last two weeks.
In the midst of the stressful postseason with his wrestlers’ goals in the balance, Smith suffered the loss of his father, Lee Roy Smith Sr., on the final day of the Cowboys’ seventh straight Big 12 Championships title. The patriarch of one of college wrestling’s most notable and accomplished wrestling families was 83.
“I don’t think anything’s easy,” Smith said. “I darn sure wasn’t ready for my father to pass.
“There’s just challenges in life. It’s just a part of life. You get up and you go. For me, just knowing what my father would want me to do, so that’s helped me make some tough decisions and get up and go.”
So Smith carries on, leading second-ranked Oklahoma State into the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, beginning Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. The Cowboys have nine qualifiers, including two-time All-American 165-pounder Joe Smith, who is John’s son.
Services were last week and the Smiths received plenty of support.
“I wish everyone that had lost someone in their life could feel what we felt as a family last week,” Smith said. “We had a lot of people, a lot of caring. It was just really nice. It was nice to have people around, saying good things. The closure to it made it a lot simpler.”
Lee Roy Smith Sr. wasn’t the catalyst to the family’s wrestling legacy, but once his oldest son, Lee Roy Smith Jr., started in the sport he became an avid supporter of his four sons. John became a two-time NCAA champion and six-time World and Olympic champion. Pat Smith was the first four-time NCAA champion. Lee Roy Smith Jr. won an NCAA title and a World medal, while youngest son, Mark, was a three-time All-American for the Cowboys.
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His grandsons, Mark and Chris Perry, also won national titles. Mark was a four-time All-American for the Iowa and a two-time national champion.
“He raised 10 children, four of them were boys,” John said. “A lot of success. He did a lot for wrestling in the state of Oklahoma.”
John was asked how many of his six sisters would have joined wrestling had the current opportunities been available 30 to 40 years ago.
“Definitely three of them,” John said with a grin. “I don’t think there is any doubt. Three of them did wrestle. They just never wrestled outside of the living room.”
Joe is a junior for the Cowboys and is the last seed in his bracket, dropping down from 174 right before the postseason. He is 18-6 this season, overcoming early injuries. He has also had to endure the loss of his grandfather.
“He was close with my dad, fishing buddies,” John said. “I think we all had a grandfather we really cared about, hopefully we did. I’ve been blessed. My family has been blessed.”
Stoll, Gremmel get new draws
The path for Iowa heavyweight Sam Stoll has changed from when brackets were first released last week.
Stoll will face Michigan freshman and fifth-seeded Mason Parris in the opening round after Buffalo’s Jake Gunning withdrew from the tournament for unspecified reasons, according to a news release Wednesday from the NCAA.
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Stoll was originally the 29th seed, but all seeds from 24 to 33 moved up one spot to replace 23rd-seeded Gunning. Purdue’s Jacob Aven was the first alternate and will move into the last spot.
Stoll and Parris have never wrestled in college. The Hawkeye senior is 9-5 and was an All-American last season, placing fifth.
Iowa State’s Gannon Gremmel (25-13) jumps to the 25th seed and faces Pitt’s No. 8 Demetrius Thomas (26-4) in the first round.
Sanderson looks for No. 8
Former Iowa State four-time NCAA champion and coach and current Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson is looking for his eighth national team title since 2011. The Nittany Lions are heavy favorites to win their fourth straight championship and produce their second four-peat in the last nine seasons.
Penn State has nine qualifiers, including defending NCAA champions Jason Nolf (157), Bo Nickal at 197 and 165-pounder Vincenzo Joseph. Nolf and Nickal could both become three-time national champs and four-time finalists. Mark Hall (174) was a 2017 NCAA champ.
Sanderson is 184-24-2 since leaving Iowa State after the 2006 season and taking over the Nittany Lions, who beat runner-up Ohio State, 141.5-134.5, a year ago.
“I know we’re grateful for the opportunity to be here and we love to compete and we peak at the right time,” Nickal said. “And we’re just ready to go. And I think that’s all it is. We want to compete because we want to and no other reason. And, we want to win because we want to, no other reason.”
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