Mason gets long-awaited matchup at Oklahoma State

Mario Mason calls it the matchup that never happened.

Dating back to high school, Mason and his South Jersey coach, John Johnson, wanted Mason to wrestle Tulsa, Okla., native Jamal Parks at a national tournament.

It never happened.

Mason wanted to meet Parks again last year in the NCAA Tournament, but with their spots on opposite sides of the 149-pound bracket, it would require Mason matching Parks’ march to the final eight and All-American honors.

That did not happen, either.

They finally meet tonight, when the 16th-ranked Rutgers wrestling team takes on Parks and No. 3 Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla.

“[Johnson] always thought [Parks] was a talented wrestler and wanted to see the match,” Mason said. “He didn’t have doubts in me winning the match then, and now he’s still coaching me and still wants to see how it goes. I plan on coming out and winning.”

Mason consistently ranked Nos. 1 or 2 in the nation as he won four state championships at Blair Academy. Parks consistently ranked Nos. 3 or 4 while he won three Oklahoma state titles. Those rankings are reversed now, as Parks enters the matchup ranked second nationally and Mason fourth.

Mason wrestled once at Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena, where the Cowboys wrestled for the more than 60 years, while he was at Minnesota.

He is excited to return to the 13, 611-seat arena, but he is equally excited to follow last weekend’s 149-pound title at the Brockport/Oklahoma Gold Classic with the toughest matchup on his schedule.

“I have full confidence that I’m coming out and winning the match,” Mason said. “That’s how you have to look at it. I don’t want to sound cocky or anything like that, but you have to have some kind of confidence in yourself, especially when I’m looking at a national title.”

He has to earn a spot on the podium first, something two Cowboy wrestlers can already claim.

Parks finished fifth at the NCAA Championships last season, while 133-pound junior Jordan Oliver won the national title with a dominant trek through his bracket.

“That kid’s on a whole other level than anyone else in the country,” said Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale. “He’s the national champ, and he’s thinking about the Olympic games next year. It’s a good opportunity to wrestle the best guy in the country, maybe the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the country.”

Every member of the Knights lineup will be tested, and only two will be favored.

Junior Scott Winston out-ranks Oklahoma State sophomore Dallas Bailey by three spots at 165 pounds, but “even that’s a toss-up,” Goodale said.

Junior Gregory Zannetti wrestles in the only weight class the Cowboys do not have a ranked wrestler: 174 pounds.

It is the type of challenge Rutgers sought when it reached out to Oklahoma State after last season’s national tournament and entered a four-year contract with one of only two teams to have a representative at the tournament in every weight class.

“What else do you want?” Goodale said. “It’s the highest level of Division I wrestling.”

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