Missouri wrestling banquet sends off seniors, reunites alumni

Friday, April 11, 2014 | 10:28 p.m. CDT; updated 4:19 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 12, 2014

COLUMBIA — Hundreds gathered in the Clinton Club, located in the basement of Mizzou Arena, on Friday night.

They celebrated the Missouri wrestling team's successful season and sent off the team's five seniors. Former wrestlers and coaches and current Tigers combined to represent those who have contributed to the Missouri wrestling program over the years.

"At one point tonight, we had more people than chairs," said athletic trainer Shane Bishop. "It's great to see our Tiger Style family so strong."

The night's speaker was Greg Warren, an academic All-American wrestler for Missouri in 1991. Now, as a 45-year-old comedian, he returned to tell jokes at the wrestling banquet — reminiscing on his time at Missouri.

While Warren looked back at his good old days, there were some pretty good days this season for the Tigers.

In 2014, Missouri won its third consecutive conference title and finished as the No. 10 team in the country — despite having to replace 80 percent of its roster from the year before. Twenty-two wrestlers were freshmen. One of those freshmen, J'den Cox, won a national title at 197 pounds, making him the fifth national champion in Missouri wrestling history.

Wrestlers devoured assortments of pasta, bread, salad, vegetables and cake. Coaches, families, friends and alumni watched the highlight video projected on a big screen at the front of the room playing a compilation of the season's memories.

"I still get goosebumps watching that," Smith said.

As the night wore on, goosebumps turned to laughter and laughter evoked tears. Awards were given to wrestlers by the coaching staff.

Cox, Lavion Mayes, Joey Lavallee, Matt Lemanowicz were all recognized for their accomplishments as freshmen. Cox earned the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award as well as the Marshall Esteppe Most Outstanding Freshman Award. Mayes was named Most Improved. Lavallee had Most Pins. Lemanowicz won the Strength and Conditioning Award for adding 20 pounds and going up two weight classes.

Junior and two-time All-American Drake Houdashelt was named the team's Iron Man and given Hap Whitney's Coach's Award.

Senior Jordan Gagliano was recognized for his 3.9 GPA by receiving the Total Person Program Academic Excellence Award; one award later, he was back to collect his award as the Ed Lampitt Total Tiger.

After all nine awards were handed out, it was the seniors' turn to say farewell. Or perhaps, see you later. Gagliano, Kyle Bradley, Taylor Ronan, Zach Toal and Eric Wilson each stepped to the podium to state how thankful they were to their coaches, families and teammates.

"They never really leave," Smith said. "But it's hard to see them go tonight."

Former Missouri heavyweight Dom Bradley was one of those seniors that Smith hated to lose last year. Bradley still comes to the Missouri wrestling facility every day to practice and help coach the team.

"Twice a day, actually," he smiled. "If you want to be exact."

Supervising editor is Erik Hall.

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