ST. LOUIS - The road to success is usually long and tough. For the Missouri Tigers wrestling team, it has been one step at a time.
When Brian Smith became coach of the Tigers in 1998, he said the program was happy to have any wrestler make the NCAA national championship tournament. Smith said this wasn’t the right attitude and has been determined to make Missouri better.
Before long, Missouri was bringing several wrestlers to the tournament each year. Then, it had wrestlers win matches each year in the tournament. Then, it started having All-Americans. In 2007, the Tigers finished third in the tournament. This year, they reach another milestone at the tournament by setting a Missouri record with five All-Americans, the most of any team in the tournament this year.
“We have five All-Americans,” Smith said. “It’s not where we wanted to finish, but there’s not much we can do about that now. It’s another step for the program, to put five guys on the podium.”
In the fifth session of the tournament Saturday morning at Scottrade Center, all four Missouri wrestlers finished with wins in their last matches, some for their seasons and some for their careers. Senior Raymond Jordan (174-pound) took third, senior Michael Chandler (157-pound) and junior Max Askren (197-pound) took fifth and junior Nick Marable (165-pound) took seventh.
Jordan and Chandler have both had tough roads of their own to climb to where they are, but both said it has been worth every second.
Jordan lost both of his parents when he was six years old and came to MU, not leaving much of a family at all back home in New Bern, NC. Once Jordan arrived, he said the team became his family.
Jordan said his goal was to win a national championship, but realized this wasn’t attainable after a tough loss in the semifinals Friday night. With all he went through as a kid, he said he has become better at looking on the bright side.
“I have done a better job at letting things go,” Jordan said. “Not just in wrestling, but in life. When things don’t happen the way you want them to, you‘ve got to put them behind you.”
Jordan won his final match against Brandon Browne of Nebraska by the score of 4-0. Jordan lost an overtime match to Browne in the finals of the Big 12 tournament. With the victory, Jordan avenged that loss and also finished his career with 123 victories, which is fourth all-time for the Tigers.
Chandler was a walk-on to the Missouri wrestling team. Smith said his original goal was to just make the team and grab the coach’s attention. Chandler certainly grabbed Smith’s attention and, in his fourth trip to the tournament, Chandler is an All-American for the first time.
Chandler started his day losing a major decision to Gregor Gillepsie of Edinboro, which placed him in the fifth-place match. Chandler came back strong his second match, defeating Matt Moley of Bloomsburg 2-1. Chandler’s final victory of his college career was his 100th victory.
“It’s always nice to go out on a win,” Chandler said. “Having that last win be my hundredth, that was really special. I don’t think it’s hit me yet that my career is over.”
The day is not over for the Tigers. Junior Mark Ellis faces off against Konrad Dudziak of Duke in the finals of the heavyweight tournament tonight. The Tigers are on a roll, and they hope Ellis can become only the second Missouri wrestler to be a national champion. This would be another huge step for a progressing Missouri wrestling program.
Missouri currently sits at seventh as a team with 66
points. The finals start at 5:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on ESPN.