COLUMBIA — It has been eight years and three days.
That’s how much time has passed since the Missouri wrestling team last faced the University of Illinois in head-to-head competition. While the football team has opened its season against its neighboring rivals the past three years and the men’s basketball team faces the Illini every December, the wrestlers have not had a dual meet with Illinois in years.
That will change at 6:30 tonight when the Tigers open the season against Illinois at Hearnes Center.
“I’m sure it will be a tough match,” senior heavyweight Max Askren said. “Bunnies for the first game, that’s usually how a lot of sports go, right? But not us... We start against some tough teams, but I think Coach kind of likes it that way. Because then it’s a pretty tough challenge first, see where you’re at, and then work from there. It’s a pretty different approach, but it works.”
Head coach Brian Smith said that he enjoys the challenge a team like Illinois presents.
“We’ve been beating each other up in the room for the past month, so to get to go out and compete for the first time, and at home, it will be fun,” head coach Brian Smith said.
The Illini are not ranked in the USA Today/NWCA/Intermat preseason poll, but they were ranked eighth in the nation at the end of last season. The Tigers are ranked 8th in the preseason polls.
“We try not to worry about rankings and stuff,” sophomore Dorian Henderson, a sophomore on the squad, said. “We just go out there and wrestle and stay level-minded, no matter who it’s against.”
Smith is also excited for the chance to renew the Missouri-Illinois rivalry. For the first four years Smith coached the team, it had dual meets against Illinois each year. He joined the Tigers in 1998.
“For these guys, the rivalry is just kind of starting up again, so it will be fun,” Smith said.