ST. LOUIS – Missouri coach Brian Smith let his wrestlers know that there was no time to think about the past.
On Friday night, Missouri fell out of the top 10 at the NCAA wrestling championships, and the Tigers won just one of six matches in the evening session. Three of the losses came by two points or less.
On Saturday morning, Smith gathered Missouri’s 2008 All-Americans, sophomore Nicholas Marable (165 pounds), junior Raymond Jordan (184) and sophomore Max Askren (197), in his hotel room. All three had lost their final matches on Friday but were competing on Saturday morning.
“I just said ‘Guys, this is the start of next season,’” Smith said. “You have to go out there and show that there is still some pride in this program.”
His pep talk paid off. Marable finished third, Jordan fifth and Askren seventh.
In the third-place match at 165-pounds, No. 3 Marbable faced No. 4 Mack Lewnes of Cornell. Earlier in the season, Marable defeated Lewnes 3-2.
Marable also won the third place match 3-2.
After the referee blew the whistle to end the match, Marable, a man who shows no emotions, sort of showed some.
He lifted both hands towards the sky, pointing his index fingers upwards. However, the emotional response was not for him.
“Mainly I did it for the crowd,” Marable said. “My friends always talk about how I don’t do anything.”
Marable’s competitive nature might be stronger than any other wrestler’s. After the match, all he could talk about was hating losing.
On Friday night, he experienced a difficult loss to No. 2 seed Mark Perry of Iowa, and his disgust was still evident on Saturday. Perry scored a late takedown that neither Smith nor Marable thought should have been counted. Marable said that Perry never had control.
“I mean, I’m happy with third, but I wanted first,” Marable said.
On Saturday, Smith either ignored the takedown or forgot about it.
“I don’t think he has given up a takedown since December,” Smith said.
Jordan then continued Missouri’s recovery.
After he lost to third-seeded Tyrel Todd of Michigan on Saturday morning, he faced No. 7 seed Philip Keddy of Iowa. Jordan was able to shake off his first loss to win 6-4 in sudden victory overtime.
Keddy held a 3-2 lead in the third period when Jordan scored a takedown for a one-point lead. But Keddy soon escaped to tie the score at four, forcing sudden victory overtime.
“I scored the last takedown, so I knew the momentum was in my favor.”
When Keddy shot at Jordan halfway through the one-minute overtime period, Jordan countered and scored a takedown to win.
He too had a disappointing showing on Friday, losing 3-2 in overtime to second-seeded Mike Pucillo of Ohio State.
“It’s tough to get yourself back up,” he said. “I just had to shake it off and get ready.”
Askren also finished the tournament with a win, 11-9, but dealt with some controversy.
Facing Bert Bertolino of Iowa State in the seventh-place match, Askren had two controversial calls go against him.
Leading 3-2 in the first period, it looked like Askren scored a takedown on the edge of the mat. The referee signaled for two points for Askren, but then quickly called them off.
Then at the end of the match, with Askren holding a 9-7 lead, Bertolino had Askren on the mat and was trying for the takedown. With the seconds ticking away, the referee signaled the match over, and it appeared that Askren won 9-7.
After the two referees huddled in the center of the mat, they decided to award the takedown to Bertolino.
“That’s the first call I’ve ever seen changed by the ref and side ref,” Askren said.
The Missouri coaches immediately made sure that Askren focused his mind on overtime.
“The big thing I yelled at my assistants was get his head gear on and keep his composure,” Smith said.
In a finish similar to Jordan’s, Askren countered Bertolino’s shot and scored a takedown to win.
“A lot of kids get flustered by it and get taken down again, and Max showed a lot of composure,” Smith said.
After the match, Askren was frustrated by the controversial calls, suggesting that the referee favored Iowa State because of its coach, Cael Sanderson, a four-time national champion.
“Sometimes it seems like they let Sanderson run around like a dog without a leash. They don’t give him warnings, he’s just free,” Askren said. “It’s the same thing with (Oklahoma State coach) John Smith. Hey, if they have the power, use it.”
In the end, he was happy with his seventh-place finish, even though he was hoping for more.
Smith said the same thing about the team’s overall performance.
Missouri climbed as high as third during the tournament, but finished 11th with 48.5points. Iowa won the national championship.
“There is a silver lining behind all this,” Smith said. “You may not know it right now, but you’ll see it.”
Missouri’s three All-Americans return for next season, and junior Michael Chandler (157) and sophomore Mark Ellis (heavyweight) were both one win away from All-American honors.
Missouri also had one of the top recruiting classes last year, and Smith expects some of those freshmen to step into the lineup next year.
“This is the beginning of next year right now,” Smith said.