Little Rock's 174 lber Triston Wills (right) (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
A previously populated schedule for the Pac-12 was left nearly barren after COVID cancellations. The lone event across the conference this past week was a home-dual for Little Rock, which saw the Trojans play host Coach Neil Erisman's alma mater, the #3 Cowboys of Oklahoma State.
Little Rock vs. #3 Oklahoma State (January 8th)
In front of a program-best crowd of 1,524, the Trojans were tested by a star-studded Cowboys lineup. The defenders managed two bout wins as it confronted eight-ranked opponents, including national runner-up, #2 Daton Fix (133) and national champion, #1 AJ Ferrari (197), in an eventual 35-6 Cowboy victory.
The Trojans took advantage of the "holes" in the Cowboy lineup, earning victories against the only unranked Cowboys on the mat that evening. At 149lbs, Oklahoma State's Joey Sanchez stepped in for #15 Kaden Gfeller, and Little Rock's Joey Bianchi was ready for him. A four-point first period, on a takedown and turn, coupled with a second period rideout was good enough for a 5-0 decision victory for Bianchi. The other victory for the Trojans came at 174lbs, when standout Triston Wills squared off against Cowboy Jalin Harper (traditionally a 157), who stepped in for #8 Dustin Plott. Wills employed a second period, six-point reversal and riding-time to prevail over Harper, 7-1. A pair of Trojans performed well despite losing their respective bouts. Leading off the dual at lightweight, Jayden Carson scored the first takedown and earned a crucial third-period escape to avoid conceding riding-time, holding #9 Trevor Mastrogiovanni to an 8-3 decision. At 165lbs, Tyler Brennan used a four-point third period to counter an attempt at a major from #5 Travis Wittlake. Down 5-0 with riding-time for Wittlake in the final period, Brennan earned back-to-back escapes as Wittlake pursued the major. Down 7-2, Brennan scored a takedown in short time to halt Wittlake's advance, eventually conceding a 9-4 decision.
Coach Erisman was proud of his program, despite the loss. The ability to bring such a large crowd, in the context of dozens of canceled events, was a victory to go alongside the individual match victories for the Trojans. Regarding the meet, Erisman reinforced the intent of Little Rock to wrestle against the best competition available. "This is why we wrestle the schedule that we do. We have an incredibly tough dual schedule. When you win here, it's for real. We're wrestling top teams in the country."
And quite the schedule it is set to be. This upcoming weekend, Little Rock will travel to the traditional conference region to face #23 Oregon State (on January 14th) and Stanford (on January 15th), followed by a road trip to North Carolina the week after, when they will face Virginia Military Institute and Appalachian State (both on January 21st) followed by #22 North Carolina (on January 23rd). With the wrestling gods' blessing, each of those meets will come to pass.