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OSU wrestling: Wittlake wins individual title, sets sights on exclusive club

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Oklahoma State's Travis Wittlake defeats North Dakota State's Andrew Fogarty in the 165-pound championship round of the Big 12 Wrestling Tournament on March 8 at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Ok.

Tulsa — After losing in the Southern Scuffle, Travis Wittlake never imagined finishing atop the podium at the Big 12 tournament, but Sunday night the redshirt freshman did just that.

Wittlake had a slow start to the season. He won matches, but by narrow margins and with the wrong mindset. A few months later he finished on top of the podium in his first appearance at the Big 12 tournament.

Throughout the season, Wittlake’s confidence grew and so did the margins in his match scores. Fellow cowboy Wyatt Sheets had a huge role in Wittlake’s personal growth as the two pushed each other to be better than they were the day before. After not qualifying for nationals last season, Sheets has a second-place finish in the tournament earning him an automatic bid to nationals.

“Me and Wyatt drill together a lot, we’re warmup partners at every tournament, at every dual,” Wittlake said. “Wyatt’s gotten a lot better and helped me get a lot better so it’s awesome to see.”

In his true freshman year, Wittlake didn’t have dual experience and only competed in open tournaments, and as a result lacked confidence to start the season. As the season continued, he got the experience he needed and began to showcase his skill as a wrestler.

“He’s an athlete and he needs to continue to use his athletic ability,” OSU coach John Smith said. “I think his offense is starting to change a lot … glad to see him get a takedown in all three periods, those things we didn’t see early that we’re starting to see now.”

Fellow Cowboy Nick Piccininni went 4-for-4 in the Big 12 tournament becoming the ninth wrestler to accomplish the feat. As a freshman and tournament champion, Wittlake has aspirations of joining the exclusive list.

“It’s awesome to be able to have a guy like (Piccininni) on the team,” Wittlake said. “I hope to four time as well.”

Wittlake, a Coos Bay, Ore. native, was able to share the win with his family, an event that has not occurred very often this season. The win is not only meaningful for Wittlake, but also for everyone that has helped him get to where he is now.

“You don’t see many guys from Oregon or even from my high school going (Division I) in any sport really and being successful,” Wittlake said. “This is big for me, big for my family, big for my school and my community. It’s pretty awesome.”