Missouri wrestlers confident entering national meet

Thursday, March 19, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Missouri heavyweight Mark Ellis, right, is the Tigers' highest-seeded wrestler in the NCAA Wrestling Tournament, which begins Thursday in St. Louis. Ellis is the No. 2 seed in the heavyweight division.

COLUMBIA — The Missouri wrestling team will head into the NCAA national championship tournament with determination, confidence and a little bit of swagger.

“When you walk out with the black and gold, people are afraid to wrestle us I think,” senior Michael Chandler said. “We wrestle hard for seven minutes no matter what.”

The Tigers have a right to be a little bit cocky. They wrestle in the Big 12 Conference, arguably the toughest division in wresting. The conference had 84 percent of its starting wrestlers qualify, including eight Missouri wrestlers, which ties a Missouri record set in 2007. That year, the Tigers finished third in the nation, also a Missouri record.

Six Missouri wrestlers come in with top-six seeds, which is the most Missouri has ever had. The highest is junior Mark Ellis, who has the second seed in the heavyweight division.

The tournament, which starts at 11 a.m., Thursday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, consists of six sessions over the span of three straight days. The final session will begin at 5:30 p.m., Saturday. The tournament is double elimination, but in order to win a national championship, you cannot lose once. Individual titles are on the minds of all the Tigers.

Missouri junior Nick Marable was third in the 165-pound weight division last year, but had hoped to win it all. This year, after winning his second straight Big 12 individual title, Marable has the No. 5 seed and is going in with the same mindset.

“I want to prove myself,” Marable said. “My first goal is to win nationals. I’m going in with the mindset to dominate. If it’s a 5-2 match, but if I dominate the whole match, that’s fine with me. As long as I’m dominating.”

Marable said he has improved as a wrestler in the top position a lot since last year. Missouri coach Brian Smith said Marable is almost impossible to take down.

“I’m going to try to get a takedown a period,” Marable said. “I don’t think anybody in my weight class can wrestle with me.”

The wrestlers who finish in the top eight of each bracket are named All-Americans. Marable, along with Raymond Jordan and Max Askren were Missouri’s All-Americans last year. Three All-Americans is the most Missouri has ever had, but with six wrestlers seeded sixth or higher this record could be broken.

Chandler is making his fourth trip to the tournament, but is looking to claim All-American honors for the first time. Chandler is a St. Louis native and said he is looking forward to having hometown support.

“It’s awesome to be a four-time qualifier, but obviously I’ve had my shortcomings the past three years,” Chandler said. “That’s obviously not going to happen this year. There are a lot of guys out there who are content at just wrestling in the national tournament. There are guys who give up out there.”

Smith said the crowd will be not only favor Chandler, but the whole Missouri wrestling team.

“Watching Nebraska and how they performed at home at the Big 12s, shows it will be nice, because now we’re at home,” Smith said. “Scottrade is our home building now. I think we’ve sold over 1,100 tickets in our section. We’re going to have the emotion in the crowd behind us now.”

Smith said his team has not changed its practices and will try not to look ahead.

“I wish kids would focus on the first thing, “ Smith said. “What you can control is the first match. A lot of people get caught up on who you could wrestle, but half the time they don’t even wind up there. You need to focus on what you can control.”

Senior Marcus Hoehn, sophomore Todd Schavrien and redshirt freshman Dorian Henderson are making their first trips to the national tournament. Schavrien, who has drawn 133-pound top-seed Franklin Gomez of Michigan State in the first-round says his teammates' mindsets should help him.

“These guys’ attitudes and their atmosphere is really contagious," Schavrien said. "I just want to catch onto it, and I don’t really care what the guy is seeded.”

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