COLUMBIA — Brian Smith has been the head wrestling coach at Missouri for 13 years, but this year’s team presents a unique set of challenges.
First, the team is young, with 141-pounder Todd Schavrien the only senior in the starting rotation. That means the team has to learn on the go and gain more and more experience and knowledge with every match.
Another challenge is their tough schedule.
“I’d have no problem calling our schedule the toughest schedule in America,” Smith said.
But that hasn’t stopped the Tigers from climbing to No. 7 in the NWCA/USA Today Division I Coaches Poll.
Along the way to that No. 7 ranking, the Tigers have faced some formidable competition, from No. 1 Cornell, No. 6 Oklahoma State and No. 9 Boise State to No. 14 Rutgers, No. 17 Lehigh and No. 21 Central Michigan.
In all, Missouri has wrestled 10 ranked teams this season, going 5-5 against those opponents.
But Smith said he is not worried about the losses.
“The tough schedule gives you a chance to find out where your weaknesses are,” he said.
Smith preaches patience to his team. He wants his wrestlers to know that they have to keep their confidence high and not get down on themselves because of bad matches or losses.
“When you wrestle the best, you have opportunities to upset the best,” he said.
So, though the team has had a mixed bag of results against the top teams, Smith said he is confident about the Tigers.
“They have to keep their confidence high,” he said. “They have to know we believe in them.”
As the season has progressed, the team has gotten better and better according to Smith.
“We really improved throughout the month of December,” he said.
The Tigers face another tough test this Sunday when they open the Big 12 Conference season against No. 16-ranked Nebraska. The match will take place at 1 p.m. at the Hearnes Center.