COLUMBIA— Despite being the defending national champion, Missouri senior Mark Ellis has struggled in the regular season.
Ellis has lost eight matches this season, including his last two matches, to Oklahoma State’s Jared Rosholt and Iowa State’s David Zabriskie, 3-2. Ellis’ first match at the Big 12 Tournament on Saturday will be against Zabriskie, the only wrestler in the country whom Ellis is winless against. Zabriskie has defeated Ellis six times, including twice this season.
“I've lost matches for different reasons,” Ellis said. “I'm not sure what else to say other than the fact that I am better. I wrestle harder, and I bring it most of my matches so in the past I just didn't get it done. That's all going to change this weekend.”
Ellis currently has an 18-8 record on the season. He finished last season with only three losses.
“We can’t really focus on the losses,” Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith said. “Yes, we’re working on the little things so he scores more, but I’m not going to worry about the losses. He’s beaten Rosholt before, and we know he can beat Zabriskie. It’s just a matter of putting the two matches together, and he will. He’s ready for it.”
However, Ellis said that a Big 12 and NCAA Championship would erase all of that.
Last season, Ellis was unable to win the Big 12 Tournament, but rebounded two weeks later to win the NCAA Championship. Smith said that Ellis was down after losing to Zabriskie 3-1 in the Big 12 Finals, but told Ellis to keep his composure and prepare for nationals.
He’s telling Ellis the same this season.
“The season isn't over,” Smith said. “It's living for today and looking at the end. The NCAA and Big 12 is what matters the most in a wrestling season in college. These guys right here know that, especially (Ellis and seniors Max Askren and Nick Marable).”
After winning the national championship, Ellis had an interesting off-season, going out for the Missouri football team, thinking that he might want to play football in addition to wrestling.
“I thought maybe that was something I wanted to do, but I realized it would be difficult to do both and still win another national title,” Ellis said.
2008 Olympic wrestler Ben Askren is the only other wrestler to win a national championship for Missouri, winning in 2006 as a junior, and repeating in 2007. In his campaign to repeat in 2007, Askren went undefeated with a record of 42-0 and finished his career at Missouri with an 87-match winning streak.
Ellis will see Zabriskie and possibly Rosholt this weekend at the Big 12 Championships. All five heavyweights in the Big 12 have already qualified for the NCAA Wrestling Championships, held in Omaha, Nebraska, March 18-20.
“I have yet to win a Big 12 title and I really want to get that done before I leave Mizzou, so this is my last chance,” Ellis said.