ST. LOUIS — Missouri junior Mark Ellis is a big man with a big dream: to win an indivdiual national wrestling title.
The grappler is just one step away from it coming to fruition after winning his semifinal match at the NCAA national tournament 5-3 against Jermail Porter of Kent State on Friday night at the Scottrade Center.
Ellis’ semifinal match came after Missouri suffered a blow when junior Max Askren and senior Raymond Jordan lost their semifinal matches.
Early in his match, it appeared as if Ellis would suffer the same fate. Porter recorded the first takedown in the first period. Ellis escaped from the takedown quickly and notched a takedown of his own, riding his opponent out until the end of the period and maintained control for the rest of the match.
“That was the first time I’ve been down over the past couple of days,” Ellis said. “Once he got that takedown, he caught me off guard. I just stayed focused and kept telling myself I’ll get my takedown.”
Earlier in the day, Ellis became Missouri's first heavyweight All-American. Ellis said this is only the first part of the dram.
Ellis said that assitant coach Shawn Charles calls people who try to get in his way ‘dream stoppers.’ Ellis said this was constantly going throughout his mind during the match.
Ellis’ final match will be tomorrow against Konrad Dudziak of Duke. Dudziak upset Nebraska’s David Zabriskie to earn his place in the finals. Zabriskie defeated Ellis twice this season, but Ellis said he is more disappointed than relieved that he will not get a third shot at his rival.
“I’ve been really believing that God is going to put me in the best position to win,” Ellis said. “I wanted to wrestle Zabriskie really bad. He’s the only person I’ve really lost to. It didn’t happen that way, but I’ve still got to win a national title.”
Ellis is the first Tiger to make a championship finals since Ben Askren won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Ellis said Ben Askren has been like an older brother to him since he came to MU and was a big reason why he stayed with wrestling.
“When I came to Mizzou, I ended up wanting to play football and at the last moment I switched to wrestling,” Ellis said. “I’ve wanted to walk away from wrestling numerous times. Ben Askren pulled me in and said, 'You’re not quitting.’"
Ben Askren is a volunteer coach for the Tigers this year and was in Ellis’ corner for his semifinal victory. As soon as the match was over, Ellis raised his hands proudly in the air and wrapped Ben Askren in a bear hug. Ben Askren said he was probably more nervous than Ellis.
“It’s always harder coaching,” Ben Askren said. “I get so nervous sitting in the corner. I was pretty confident today. I think he’s got a good match up tomorrow where he’s going to win.”
Senior Michael Chandler, who is Ellis’ best friend, lost in the quarterfinals of 157-pound class during the first session of the day. Chandler still was able to earn his first All-American honors. Chandler said even though he didn’t make it to the finals himself, he had no doubt that Ellis would.
“I definitely knew Mark was going to be in the finals,” Chandler said. “We thought we would have more guys in the finals, but there was no doubt in mind. He trains so hard, it’s ridiculous. He’s got to train circles around heavyweights. Mark wrestles like a lighter weight. He’s a well-oiled machine.”
Chandler added that Ellis does not have the diet of your typical heavyweight. He doesn’t drink soda or eat much fast food. He eats food from all five food groups and drinks a lot of water.
The day was not only special for Ellis, but for the Missouri wrestling program as a whole. Ellis, along with Jordan, Chandler, Max Askren and Nick Marable will be All-Americans this year. This is a new Missouri record. Jordan, Chandler and Askren can finish no lower than sixth and Marable will wrestler for seventh place tomorrow.
“Five All-Americans is good,” coach Brian Smith said. “That’s another step for the program.”
The Tigers are currently in seventh place as a team for the tournament with 57.5 points. It is unlikely the Tigers will win a team title, but they won’t stop believing.
“Of course we want to bring a team trophy home,” Smith said. “We might still have a chance at that, but we just have to do what we can do now.”
The Tigers will wrestler their final day on Saturday, with the fifth session starting at 9:30 a.m. The sixth session will start at 5:30 p.m., and this is when Ellis will get his chance to live his dream.