Old Dominion wrestling’s most challenging dual-meet schedule in the program’s history concludes Sunday when the Monarchs host the highest-ranked team to come to Norfolk in coach Steve Martin’s tenure.
Northern Iowa is ranked No. 5 this week in the USA Today coaches’ poll and leads the Mid-American Conference wrestling standings, of which ODU is a member. The Panthers (12-0, 6-0 MAC) are the only remaining unbeaten dual-meet team in the country.
“We have an opportunity,” Martin said, as ODU prepares for Sunday’s 1 p.m. meet at the Constant Center. “They’re really good and we’re not favored, by any means, but we can compete with these guys. We match up with them, but they’re favored.”
Northern Iowa defeated four nationally-ranked teams in dual meets, including top-10s Oklahoma and Missouri within a week last month. The Panthers have four nationally-ranked wrestlers, according to TheOpenMat.com, led by senior Joe Colon, ranked No. 1 at 133 pounds. Dylan Peters (125) and Ryan Loder (184) are ranked fifth at their respective weights, and Cooper Moore is No. 7 at 165 pounds.
ODU has three nationally-ranked wrestlers in Chris Mecate, No. 4 at 141 pounds, No. 16 Alexander Richardson (149) and No. 19 Billy Curling (174). Curling, a redshirt senior from Chesapeake, has been on a roll lately, defeating top-10 wrestlers from Central Michigan and Ohio and Missouri’s Mike England in his last three matches.
“The schedule’s really hardening up our kids,” Martin said. “We’ve wrestled so many ranked teams that it’s normal. They’re no longer the No. 5 team coming in, they’re just another team.”
Northern Iowa is the 12th team ODU wrestled that either is ranked or was ranked at some point during the season.
“As far as the familiarity with wrestling good teams,” Martin said, “it takes out the ‘wow’ factor. You’re staring at the singlet instead of the opponent. That position is gone because of the schedule.”
The Monarchs (8-9, 4-3 MAC) don’t have a great dual meet record, but are tied for third in the MAC with Kent State, behind Northern Iowa and Missouri. Since the Virginia Duals, they are 5-2, their only losses to No. 12 Virginia and No. 10 Mizzou.
ODU concludes its dual meet schedule as it prepares for the MAC tournament March 8-9 at Kent, Ohio, and the NCAA championships 11 days later. The Monarchs have begun to taper practices and training.
“We stopped grinding,” Martin said. “Before nationals, the grinding stops. We’re doing maintenance on minds and bodies. Practices are nowhere near what they were in October, November, December or last month.”
Though the ultimate goal is qualifying wrestlers for the NCAA meet and competing for titles, he said his kids are stoked about Sunday.
“We have absolutely zero to lose,” Martin said. “They have guys that can win every weight class, guys that can score bonus points in every weight class. We’re going to have to be really good to give ourselves a chance.”