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New starters to lead Missouri wrestling after winning MAC Championship in first season

Thursday, October 24, 2013 | 8:19 p.m. CDT; updated 9:39 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 24, 2013
Missouri men's wrestling junior Devin Mellon eyes fellow teammate freshman Willie Miklus during practice at Hearnes Center on Tuesday.

COLUMBIA — It's that time of year again.

A time for take downs, sit-outs, switches, escapes, counters, hand fighting, fireman's carries, hammer locks, chicken wings, front headlocks, half nelsons and pin falls.

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A time for mind-numbing conditioning, continuous drills, rigorous workout regimens and a determination to challenge legendary football coach Lou Holtz's theory that "no one has ever drowned in sweat."

It's time for wrestling season.

The Missouri wrestling team is coming off its first season in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) with the conference championship in tow. After winning the MAC Championship tournament, the team finished third at the NCAA Wrestling Championship, with five wrestlers earning All-American status and coach Brian Smith being named MAC Wrestling Coach of the Year.

But a new year brings new challenges. With 70 percent of the starting roster changing from last year, one of the Tigers' biggest challenges will be their inexperience.

"There's a lot of talent in the room," Smith said. "Now we just need to get it wrestling the way we want it to and thinking the way we want it to. And then good things happen. But until then, it's working on getting them ready."

On Oct. 10, Smith announced that senior Kyle Bradley and juniors Drake Houdashelt and Johnny Eblen will captain the team for the upcoming season. Smith said that each one brings something different to the table to lead the young team.

"I would say Johnny Eblen is the outspoken one," Smith said. "He'll speak up when he needs to be heard. Drake Houdashelt leads by example. And then you got Kyle Bradley who not only leads on the mat, but will grab kids to the side and talk with them. He's the upperclassman that will not only lead them on the mat, but off to the side."

Eblen finished last season 20-4 at 184 pounds. He wrestled behind All-American Mike Larson, who finished eighth at the NCAA tournament last year. Larson, now the team's assistant strength and conditioning coach, expects big things from Eblen as a starter.

"He's a great wrestler," Larson said. "That weight class cleared out quite a bit since there were a lot of seniors. I don't see anyone there he can't compete with."

Eblen is looking forward to training with Larson for another season.

"It's awesome," Eblen said. "I got to help him get better last year and now he's coming back to get me better."

Eblen's new role as a leader, however, will not change his approach to wrestling.

"The only difference is that I'll be wrestling in more duals and bigger tournaments against better guys," Eblen said.

Junior Devin Mellon faces a similar challenge at the heavyweight division, taking the spot left by former Missouri wrestler and 2013 U.S. Open champion, Dom Bradley.

The two have been training partners for three years, and with Bradley now training to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Wrestling team, the two will be reunited for another season.

"He's been like a big brother to me," Mellon said "He always talks to me on the side after practice. He's always there to work with me on little things."

Bradley expects Mellon to challenge for a championship.

"He's going to do good," Bradley said. "He's been a national qualifier before, so he knows what it takes."

Bradley is one of seven returning alumni who will face off against the 2013 starting roster in the first Black & Gold Alumni match this Saturday.

Supervising editor is Sasu Siegelbaum.


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