Coach Brian Smith has been saying it all along.
“Nothing really matters until the end of March,” Smith said after the Tigers lost on consecutive days to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.
“Your dual meet record doesn’t matter if you wrestle well in the Big 12 Tournament and at nationals.”
The Big 12 Tournament is March 5 in Lincoln, Neb. The national championships begin 12 days later in St. Louis.
With the Tigers traveling to take on Eastern Illinois on Sunday, it’s no surprise that Smith will elect to rest roughly half of his normal starting lineup.
“We’re going to wrestle some of the non-starters there and rest the guys for the Big 12 Tournament,” Smith said. “I’ll talk to the team about that. We’re still going to wrestle some of them. It will be mixed up with about four or five starters and four or five non-starters.”
After beating Tennessee-Chattanooga on Wednesday night, Smith has determined who will wrestle in only three weight classes.
With senior Clint Freeman wrestling against UTC, freshman Chase Wetenkamp will wrestle in the heavyweight match. No. 19 Jeff Foust will get the weekend off, and senior J.C. Russell will compete in his place at 197 pounds. Russell was the only senior not to see action Wednesday.
Smith also hinted that senior captain Tyron Woodley (No. 5 at 165 pounds), would be rested. Woodley is 32-3 this season and has been on a roll of late, pulling off two upsets in the past week.
“We may mix some of our starters because of the three weigh-ins in eight days,” Smith said. “It will give some other guys opportunities, that’ll be excited to go wrestle. It’s a way to retool, work on a few things and get focused and get a win.”
In order to keep the Panthers guessing, Smith probably won’t make anything official until the beginning of Sunday’s 2 p.m. match. However, four other starters should get a breather.
They include senior Cody Greene (No. 17 at 149 pounds), senior Brad Cieleski (No. 15 at 157 pounds), sophomore Ben Askren (No. 2 at 174 pounds) and sophomore Matt Pell (No. 10 at 184 pounds).
But with the Big 12 Tournament two weeks away, there can’t be any drop off from those taking a break this weekend.
“We’ll just wrestle a little bit and get the game plan together and come prepared for Big 12’s,” Woodley said.