The most important week of the season thus far for WVU’s young wrestling Mountaineers starts today. The team is in Stillwater, Okla., ready to participate in Oklahoma State’s Cowboy Challenge. Along with the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers and host Oklahoma State (No. 6) will be Missouri (No. 4), Wyoming (No. 22) and Central Oklahoma.

Unlike the previous matches this season, which followed a dual team format, this competition will be a bracketed tournament. Extra wrestlers will be installed to assure an eight-man bracket for each weight class.

All 10 of Missouri’s starters are ranked in their respective weight classes. Most of Oklahoma State’s are ranked. There is also a bevy of ranked wrestlers from the other three teams.

West Virginia’s highest ranked wrestler is Noah Adams of Coal City. If you haven’t heard, Adams suffered his first loss last Saturday to Wyoming’s Steve Buchanan by a score of 8-7. The loss not only snapped Adams’ 39-match win streak but dropped him in the 197-pound national rankings. He now sits somewhere between fourth and seventh depending on which media ranking you’re reading. There are two other ranked wrestlers in his class today, one being Buchanan. The other is A.J. Ferrari from Oklahoma State. I would love to see a revenge match with Buchanan.

Ryan Sullivan is the next-highest rated Mountaineer, coming in at 13th in the 133-pound class. Sullivan faces a tough challenge with No. 1 Daton Fix (OSU) and No. 7 Matt Schmidt (Missouri) in the same class.

Peyton Hall, a true freshman from Oak Glen High School, has had great success this year, sporting a 9-1 record. He will face his stiffest challenge today with No. 4 Travis Whittaker (OSU) and No. 18 Keegan O’Toole (Missouri).

Another wrestler who I think could make some noise today is 125-pounder Killian Cardinale. He has lost three matches but has wrestled everyone close. His record is 7-3.

The Mountaineer starting lineup will probably consist of two true freshmen, four redshirt freshmen, two sophomores and two redshirt seniors. That’s young.

After today’s competition, ninth-ranked Iowa State will come to Morgantown on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. dual. This match holds a great deal of importance. Not only is it a chance for the Mountaineers to knock off a top ten team, but the individual matches will carry lots of weight for seeding the Big 12 tournament, to be held March 6-7 in Tulsa, Okla. That tournament will determine who qualifies for the national championships.

Today’s Cowboy Challenge finals are at 5 p.m. and Friday’s Iowa State/WVU match will be streaming at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN+.

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This week a squeeze of the water bottle goes to Joe Bare, former Beckley athlete and an avid reader of this column.

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