By DAVID THIESSEN
COLUMBIA — The Missouri wrestling team will have one major advantage over the other teams at the NCAA Wrestling Championships: proximity.
The St. Louis Sport Commission is hosting the tournament on March 20-22 at the Scottrade Center. Columbia is closer to St. Louis than any other school competing, giving Missouri an edge in fans and familiarity.
Over 1,200 tickets have been sold in the Missouri section of the Scottrade Center, and Missouri coach Brian Smith loves that the tournament is in St. Louis.
“For us, it’s home,” Smith said.
For junior Michael Chandler, who is the 10th seed at 157-pounds, it will actually be home.
Chandler is from High Ridge, Mo., which is a southwest suburb of St. Louis. He expects to have his family and friends in the stands cheering him on and is excited for the opportunity.
“It’s going to be good to be able to look up into the crowd and see a big black and gold section,” Chandler said.
The added pressure of wrestling so close to home with family and friends watching might rattle some wrestlers. Chandler does not expect this to affect him because it is his third trip to Nationals.
“My freshman year I was a little nervous, sophomore year was a little easier and this year I know I’m prepared,” Chandler said. “I think it comes with experience and maturity. The fact that it’s in St. Louis will make it easier for me to perform because there will be more people cheering me on.”
Nationals were held in St. Louis in 2004 and 2005, but no current Missouri wrestler competed in those tournaments. Senior Tyler McCormick (133-pounds) was a freshman in 2005 and did not qualify for Nationals, but he has experienced how the crowd can affect wrestlers.
In 2007, the Big 12 Championships were held in Columbia, and McCormick could feel the crowd rally behind him during key points in his matches.
“You could hear it and it would take your adrenaline so much higher,” McCormick said about the crowd.
McCormick remembers the crowd influencing him during his finals match against Oklahoma State’s Coleman Scott after he put Scott in a cradle hold.
“The crowd went nuts and I got an extra boost of adrenaline and I was trying to get everything I had into it,” McCormick said.
That differed from his experience at this year’s Big 12 Championship, which was held in Stillwater, Okla.
Facing Scott, who was No. 1 in the nation at the time, McCormick wrestled defensively, keeping one knee on the mat to prevent Scott from reaching his legs. The Oklahoma State fans disliked McCormick’s strategy and let him know with a cacophony of boos and chants of “Stalling, stalling”.
McCormick said that should not be the case in St. Louis.
“There should be a lot more Missouri fans than Oklahoma State fans or other fans, so it’s definitely going to help the team.”