"If you build it, they will come."
Ross Aguiar and a group of local wrestling enthusiasts took the line from "Field of Dreams" to heart when they first envisioned a top-level collegiate and high school tournament in Reno. The result was the Reno Tournament of Champions, which begins its 11th run with three days of competition starting on Sunday at the Reno Livestock Events Center.
Three-time NCAA champion Oklahoma State leads a 28-team field for the college tournament, which starts at 9 a.m. Sunday. Then the preps take center stage on Monday and Tuesday, when wrestlers representing 97 high schools from around the nation gather for one of the top tournaments in the nation.
As far as Aguiar is concerned, there's no doubt it's No. 1.
"This is the premiere high school tournament in the nation," he said. "It's known everywhere."
That's exactly what the plan was when the groundwork for this event was first laid out. The goal was to establish the "Toughest Tournament in the USA" that would establish a gauge for wrestlers to see how they stack up on a national scale.
"If you build it, they will come," Aguiar said. "You're going to see a lot of good kids out there, and that's what this tournament is all about. This is their chance to show what they've got. If they do well in this tournament, that's a huge credential. It works toward college and it works toward the rest of their lives. This is a deal where 30 years from now, they'll be able to say, 'I placed in that.'"
The top three place finishers in each of the high school weight classes receive All-American status, he added.
Carson returns to the TOC with a five-man lineup led by junior 160-pounder Travis Lamborn and 130-pounder Kyle Banko, both 16-0 so far this season after winning titles at the James Riddle Classic in Oakdale, Calif., last weekend. Lamborn has been a third-place medalist at Nevada's 4A state tournament each of the last two seasons and Banko was a state qualifier last season.
The Senators finished 35th at last year's Reno TOC, with Ahron Osheroff (140 pounds) and Micah Whitcome (152) both qualifying for the second day of competition. Osheroff is back as a 171-pounder and will compete Monday along with teammates Robbie Bozin and Jonas Schenzel.
Among the high school entries are Easton, Pa., which has won four team titles in Reno (1996, 2001, '02 and '04), as well as Wasatch, Utah, which won titles in 1999 and 2003.
"Easton and Wasatch will both be back. Parkersburg, W.V., is real tough and Rio Rancho is a little, tiny school in New Mexico (three-time defending state champion), but they're stacked. They could win the whole thing."
On Sunday, Oklahoma State will be looking to win its ninth Reno TOC championship in 10 years. The Cowboys return as the nation's No. 1 ranked team, but they will be challenged by a field that includes No. 10 Central Michigan, No. 12 Penn State, No. 14 Northwestern and No. 17 Arizona State.
"This will be the toughest college tournament we've had," Aguiar said. "You're going to see the best of the best in Division I, so there will be a lot of good matches. Some of them will be previews of the NCAAs."
Oklahoma State produced five individual champions in Reno who went on to capture national championships in March. And yes, the Cowboys are coached by John Smith is one of the winningest coaches in the school's illustrious history and was himself a six-time world champion (he was one of 15 wrestlers honored on the NCAA's 75th anniversary Team at the national tournament in March).
"They have four national champions back and six All-Americans back, so they're looking tough as heck," Aguiar said of the Cowboys.
"But this is a tough one-day tournament and I think you're going to see some upsets. Some of these kids may not be at Division I schools, but they're still very good wrestlers. And that's the beauty of wrestling, anybody can beat anybody else on a given day."
Notes: There will be some local flavor in Sunday's collegiate competition - Ryan Bader, a McQueen High graduate who now competes for Arizona State, and Dale Seley of Portland State and Fallon. Bader is a three-time Pac-10 Conference finalist and fourth-place finisher as a 197-pounder at the NCAA Championships in 2004. Bader was a two-time state champion for McQueen and Seley was a state champion 152-pounder for Fallon in 2003.
n Contact Dave Price at email@example.com or call 881-1220.