West Virginia wrestler Killian Cardinale works out during a WVU wrestling practice.

West Virginia wrestler Killian Cardinale works out during a WVU wrestling practice.

As the NCAA wrestling season winds down, West Virginia will head to Oklahoma to compete in the Big 12 Championships. The championships will start Saturday at noon and end Sunday evening. 

Although it seems unlikely for the Mountaineers to win the Big 12 championships as a team, high placing from wrestlers can help send more wrestlers to the national tournament on March 18.

In early March, the Big 12 announced pre-seeds for the top six wrestlers in each weight class, and four Mountaineers were included in those rankings. Ryan Sullivan and Peyton Hall hold the highest rankings with both wrestlers sitting at No. 2 in their classes. 

They are followed by Noah Adams, who is the highest-ranked wrestler nationally for the Mountaineers but is stuck in a loaded 197-pound class. 

Adams started the year ranked as the top wrestler in the 197-pound weight class, but due to losses against Wyoming’s Stephen Buchanan, Adams has dropped to No. 6 in the nation and No. 3 in the Big 12. 

The redshirt junior sits behind Tanner Sloan of South Dakota State and Buchanan in the Big 12 rankings. Sloan is undefeated this year but has not wrestled Adams or Buchanan this season. Last season, Adams defeated Buchanan and Sloan back-to-back in the Big 12 championships to earn a first-place finish. 

“It’s really competitive, I have a lot of respect for all the kids in the 197-pound class,” head coach Tim Flynn said. “We have had some wars with Buchanan and Woodley, and the Ferrari kid is solid, so it is a really deep weight class.”

Killian Cardinale checks in with a No. 4 seed in the 125-pound weight class. The last Mountaineer to earn a top-6 pre-seed ranking is Anthony Carman, who will take the No. 6 seed in the 184-pound weight class. 

In February, the NCAA announced that the Big 12 would be awarded 45 pre-allocations. That means 45 Big 12 wrestlers will be given automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament based on finishes in the Big 12 championships. Each weight class varies on the number of wrestlers, but the majority of the 10 weight classes will have the top five finishers. 

Of the four West Virginia wrestlers pre-seeded in the top five, all four wrestle in a weight class that has five pre-allocations. Carman will have to improve on his seeding and finish in the top four to be given an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. 

West Virginia has just three wrestlers this season that competed in the Big 12 championships last year, with Alex Hornfeck placing eighth, Scott Joll not placing and Noah Adams finishing first. Carman did not compete last year, Sullivan and Hall are freshmen this season and Cardinale transferred to WVU in the offseason.

Cardinale finished second in the Mid-American Conference championships and was a qualifier for the NCAA Tournament before it was canceled. 

Some teams wrestle to make the NCAA Tournament and will be happy with just placing within the pre-allocations at the Big 12 Championships. Flynn hopes to see his wrestlers take advantage of the opportunity and win in their respective weight classes. 

“Ultimately to be the kind of contender you want to be, you want to win now,” Flynn said. “I think last year showed us tomorrow is not guaranteed. Noah won a Big 12 Championship and we did not go to the NCAA Tournament.”