OMAHA, Neb. — After Max Askren became the Missouri wrestling team’s third national champion on Saturday night, one of the first people he went to find was his brother Ben Askren, who won national championships for Missouri in 2006 and 2007. Max Askren, who was drenched in sweat, leapt into the arms of his brother and rejoiced in the moment.
“It’s obviously a great feeling,” Ben Askren said. “I just told him that he did a good job and that I love him.”
Max Askren had just defeated Boise State’s Kirk Smith 10-3. Smith, a two-time Pac 10 Champion, came into the match as the No. 1 seed at 184 pounds and was undefeated on the season.
Max Askren struck immediately in the finals match, scoring a takedown in less than 30 seconds. He then turned Smith to his back twice to take a 7-1 lead after the first period.
As the match was winding down in the third period, a shot of Ben Askren came up on the video screen, and the Missouri crowd stood up and cheered the M-I-Z chant.
“It feels great,” Max Askren said. “I’m just happy I was able to do what everybody around me thought I could do. I know my technique was always up to par to be a national champion and in the finals it finally came out.”
Last summer, Max Askren wasn’t even sure if he would be wrestling this season. Because of back problems, he didn’t think that his health would allow him to continue to wrestle.
“The passion went away,” Max Askren said. “There were moments during practice and matches when it was there, but it didn’t sustain itself. This season, I got back to doing things how I like.”
When he went into Missouri coach Brian Smith’s office to talk about leaving wrestling, Brian Smith instead set out a game plan for the season.
“We sat down, and I was really emotional,” Max Askren said. “But we figured out a game plan to make it work. I set out and did everything that I said I was going to do, and, well, here I am.”
Max Askren is just the fifth Missouri wrestler to earn All-American honors in more than one weight class. He is also the first Tiger since Ben Askren to earn three or more All-American accolades.
“It’s just the icing on the cake,” Brian Smith said of the Askren brothers' success. “They finish their careers, both as national champions, they’re innovators of the sport. People like to see people like that wrestle. They’ve done a lot for the sport, they’ve just done a lot for Missouri wrestling.”
Missouri’s only other All-American, senior Mark Ellis, finished in sixth place at heavyweight. Ellis (a national champion for Missouri in 2009) lost 3-1 to Lehigh’s Zachery Rey in the consolation semifinals and lost 3-1 in overtime to Cal State Bakersfield’s Mitchell Monteiro in the fifth-place match.
Max Askren’s weight class was arguably the toughest bracket at the NCAA Championships. The 184-pound weight class had eight returning All-Americans, more than any other division.
Missouri finished 10th in the team standings. Iowa earned the team title, followed by second-place Cornell and Iowa State in third.