By BRUCE JACOBS
BYU wrestlers will square off against some of the nation’s toughest talent this weekend at the Cliff Keen Athletic Las Vegas Invitational in Primadonna, Nev.
The Cougars, who are coming off a less-than-stellar performance in the St. Louis Open two weeks ago, can expect even stiffer competition in Nevada this weekend.
Fifteen of the 41 teams entered in the tournament are ranked in the nation’s top 40. Some of the big-name opponents BYU could face include Arizona State, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon State and West Virginia.
“This is a tougher tournament than St. Louis,” said sophomore heavyweight Chris Miller. “It ranks right up there with nationals.”
Tom Meacham, a 141-pound junior, had the best showing in the team’s first tournament, winning three matches after dropping a first-round heartbreaker. Meacham said the first round of the Las Vegas Invitational will dictate how well the Cougars perform the rest of the way.
“Our first round is what killed us (in St. Louis),” Meacham said. “If we can all … have energy in the first round we’ll do a lot better in Vegas. It’s going to be a little harder, but St. Louis got us prepared. We should have some placers.”
This time the Cougars will benefit with the presence of Rangi Smart, a 165-pound junior and team leader. Smart stayed home during the St. Louis Open nursing a sprained ankle.
Smart, who head coach Mark Schultz called “the toughest guy on the team,” will be wrestling for the first time in nearly two years after redshirting last year.
“I’m excited (but) a little nervous,” Smart said. “I’d feel better to have a couple of matches under my belt.”
The Cougars were ranked No. 32 in the nation in the preseason, so failing to place at the St. Louis Open came as a disappointment to the team. Smart said intensity will be the key for the Cougars to avoid another letdown in Las Vegas.
“If we just wrestle intensely and get a mindset that we’re out there to win, not just participate, it’ll make a world of difference,” he said.
Junior Jose Enriquez said the St. Louis tournament was an “eye opener” he can use to build upon.
“Now I know where I’m at and where I should be,” Enriquez said. “If I can capitalize on my mistakes I think I can do better in Vegas.”