ST. LOUIS — Sophomore Max Askren is wrestling more focused than ever.
Before his second round match Wednesday at the 2008 NCAA Wrestling Championships he stood under the stands, bouncing back and forth from foot to foot. His face was all seriousness. Nothing could faze him. He did not even notice the 15,170 screaming fans at the Scottrade Center until after he was done for the day.
This is in stark contrast to his experience at the 2007 NCAA Wrestling Championships, when he was seeded first at 197-pounds, but lost his first two matches and was eliminated.
Askren said he was slightly nervous before Wednesday’s event began.
“This morning was a little nerve-wracking, but not at the level I’ve been at before,” Askren said.
Missouri coach Brian Smith said he felt the same way, but after Askren scored the first takedown in his opening match against Indiana’s Joe Fagiano, he knew that Askren would be OK.
Askren won the match 15-5, only allowing five escapes to Fagiano.
He carried that momentum into his second match, where he beat North Carolina-Greensboro’s Daren Burns 14-6.
Askren saidhe improved his training this season.
“Everyone has their own routine,” Askren said. “During folkstyle season, you’re doing what the team needs to do and sometimes the little things need to be changed up, and I did that.”
During practices, Askren said he likes to focus on moves he is the most comfortable with.
“If I get to those positions, I’m fine,” he said.
Throughout the first day of the tournament, Askren encountered these positions six or seven times. His favorite is when he is sprawled out on the ground after shooting.
“That’s my best position and I don’t expect anyone to score against that,” he said.
Askren also noted the difference in his attitude towards wrestling compared to last season.
In 2007, Missouri was one of the favorites to win a team title, and Askren said that affected how the whole team wrestled. He felt like he had to score first and win bonus points for the team, which are awarded for major decisions, technical falls and falls. With his mind on scoring bonus points for the team, Askren did not focus on each match.
This year, Askren is just worrying about what he has to do.
“It’s a team sport by points, but it’s individual because I don’t step out on the mat with my coaches or teammates,” Askren said. “So when I focus, that helps everybody.”
Smith said that Askren’s intensity is most apparent in the third period of each match, which he controlled after wearing his opponents down. Askren has scored eight points during the third period of both matches.
Askren has been so focused that he has completely blocked out the crowd, which is constantly yelling for one of the 16 wrestlers competing simultaneously. After his second match, Askren stood in the mouth of a tunnel leading below the bleachers and let out a sigh, and finally relaxed his face, realizing that he had not even looked at the crowd yet.
“They are intimidating,” Askren said. “Not yelling at you, but if you look around and take that all in, you forget about your match.”