COLUMBIA— It’s 9 a.m. on a Monday morning. While most students at MU are boarding the bus to class (or are already in class), senior wrestler Max Askren is at the Hearnes Center for his daily workout.
Askren has conducted his own workouts this season because of a back injury. He said that his workouts are shorter, but more intense, than the regular Missouri practices.
“Right when your muscles start to get tired, that’s when the deterioration starts," Askren said. "So I’m trying to keep them short.”
But Askren will have three long, grueling days to try for his first NCAA wrestling title this weekend in Omaha, Neb. Not an easy feat considering his back, and that he dropped to the sixth seed in the 184-pound bracket after falling in his Big 12 Championship bout to Oklahoma State’s Clayton Foster.
Askren (15-2), who takes on Stanford’s Zack Giesen (30-5) in the first round, has more than the sixth seed on his mind.
"I think it's my time, and now is the time to prove it,” Askren said. “Being seeded sixth doesn't put much pressure on me to go out and perform, but I expect it out of myself to go out and show everything I didn't during the season.
“I don’t have a whole lot of expectations other than what I can control. It’s hard to predict seeds but at the same time it doesn’t really matter.”
A two-time Big 12 Champion and All-American, Askren has finished fifth and seventh at the NCAA Wrestling Championships. However, that was in the 197-pound weight class. This year brought new opponents and new obstacles, but Askren has stuck to what got him All-American honors before.
“Max doesn’t like to sit and watch a lot of film because he knows if he does his things right, then he’ll be successful,” coach Brian Smith said.
Askren joins fellow seniors Nick Marable and Mark Ellis, junior Todd Schavrien, sophomore Dorian Henderson and freshman Brent Haynes as the MU national qualifiers to make the trip to Omaha, but the No. 18-ranked Tigers have a tough hill to climb against Iowa and Iowa State, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation, respectively. The Hawkeyes are expected to win their third-straight NCAA title.
But despite this being his last tournament, Askren is taking it light-heartedly.
"I haven't really thought about how I am going to look at it,” Askren said. “I just plan on going in and wrestling, it's always a fun environment to go out and compete in front of different people, family, and friends. It should be a great time to compete with my other teammates, and it will be fun to go out there together and know that we have made it through these four/five years. Not just made it, but done well."
The NCAA Wrestling Championships start at 11 a.m. on Thursday in Omaha, Nebraska, and will continue through Saturday evening, with the finals being broadcast live on ESPN.