Despite a big upset from redshirt sophomore Connor Schram at 125 pounds to lead off the meet and another major decision from freshman Joey McKenna at 141, the No. 18 Stanford wrestling team (9-3, 2-2 Pac-12) came out fatigued and flat against Oregon State (7-5, 1-1) and dropped a tough 21-13 dual Thursday night to snap its seven-match winning streak.
With Stanford coming off of a big win over conference title contender Arizona State and Oregon State having one of its worse regular seasons in recent memory, Stanford’s wrestlers had been confident that this was the year they could knock off the Beavers, winners of four of the last five conference championships, for the first time since 2004 and for just the second time since 1953.
Instead, the magnitude of the match seemed to have crept up on Stanford’s wrestlers, who turned in a showing that, according to head coach Jason Borrelli, indicated that the preparation of the team going into such a big dual wasn’t where it needed to be — neither physically nor mentally.
“We didn’t talk about it and try to put much emphasis on this dual, but our kids are smart enough to know what’s at stake,” Borrelli said. “They know when a date’s circled and when it means something to the program and they want to get over that hump as badly as anybody.”
Although Stanford started strong in the lightweight bouts with the big wins from Schram and McKenna, Oregon State separated itself down the stretch and seized the late momentum by winning each of the last three bouts at 184, 197 and 285 to silence an energetic crowd at Burnham Pavilion.
“The overall theme for me was a little bit of not controlling our emotions and anxiety,” Borrelli said. “And that sometimes happens with big matches. Sometimes, when you’re not a team that’s used to winning that big match, that anxiety gets to us.”
Schram gave the Beavers a gut punch to start the meet when he stunned Ronnie Bresser, the No. 6 wrestler in the country at 125 and Oregon State’s best competitor, in a dramatic buzzer-beater victory.
Trailing 3-2 late in the third period after an early escape from Bresser, Schram finally found some leverage with under 10 seconds to go and notched the decisive takedown with just four seconds remaining in the match to emerge victorious in a 4-3 decision and improve to 15-4 on the season.
After Mason Pengilly couldn’t edge Oregon State’s Joey Palmer in his first dual appearance since mid-December, McKenna took center stage at 141 and outlasted Jack Hathaway for a 10-1 major decision punctuated by a 4-point near fall early in the third period that turned the tides in McKenna’s favor for good. The freshman improved to a perfect 9-0 in duals this season and notched his fifth major decision in his last six dual appearances.
“After that, we had some guys go out and really couldn’t control themselves,” Borrelli said. “Couldn’t control the positions and control anxiety, and they got exhausted. And once we got exhausted in some of those matches, we got exposed. You can’t let the tides turn like that.”
Redshirt junior Peter Russo got bloodied early in his bout at 149 after taking a big hit, and despite passing concussion protocol, wasn’t the same afterwards, falling in a 10-2 major decision with a bandage over the bloody cut on his forehead. Redshirt freshman Walker Dempsey followed that up with a fatigued performance that led to a tough 26-11 technical fall loss at 157 — his third straight defeat — that took all the wind out of Stanford’s sails.
Though redshirt juniors Jim Wilson and Peter Galli were able to gut out tough decisions at 165 and 174, respectively, to give Stanford a late 13-12 team lead, Oregon State’s late push was too much for Stanford to overcome as Garet Krohn, Zach Nevills and Nathan Butler struggled late in their bouts to give the Beavers the win.
“I think for us, [the loss] was good,” Borrelli said. “It was good to get a chance to see a team that’s dominated our conference. We won four matches and we need to win five or six and we’re not far away. We’re close.”
The Cardinal will have a chance to regroup quickly when they travel to Colorado on Saturday to take on the struggling Air Force Falcons, losers of their last two duals. Stanford will need to find a quick answer for its big-match anxiety and its issues with fatigue before a brutal closing stretch against Boise State and Oklahoma State next week.
“We expected to win [today], but we didn’t get what we wanted,” Borrelli said. “Are we going to tuck our tails and drag our feet for the next three weeks or are we going to go back into the room and train like we’re trying to beat this team?”
“I know our guys will respond and motivate.”
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.