All season, the Missouri wrestling team has depended on strong performances in the upper weight classes. And most of the time, Ben and Max Askren and Raymond Jordan have delivered everything it needed.
At the Big 12 Championships on Saturday at Hearnes Center, the Tigers asked for a little too much from their stars.
Going into the 174-pound championship match, Missouri needed to get 13 points from the three to have a mathematical shot at winning the championship. That meant all three would need to win as well as collect a combined four bonus points. All three won their matches, but only Ben Askren was able to pick up a bonus point by earning a 13-4 major decision over Oklahoma State’s Brandon Mason. In the next match, Jordan beat Iowa State’s Jake Varner 4-3 to become the 184-pound champion. Jordan’s inability to earn a bonus point officially eliminated the Tigers from contention though, leaving only Iowa State and Oklahoma State left to battle for the title.
The Tigers had to settle for celebrating individual achievements. Max Askren beat Nebraska’s Craig Brester 3-2 in the 197-pound championship match, and Missouri tied a school record with three conference champions in a single year.
“I enjoyed it,” Max Askren said. “I enjoyed the experience, it was nice seeing all the fans here. All in all, it was a good day.”
Ben Askren was clearly emotional as he walked off the Hearnes Center mat for the last time, blowing kisses to the Missouri fans in the stands.
“That’s his last match at Hearnes,” Missouri coach Brian Smith said. “So I know he’s pretty upset about that because he loves it, he loves to compete in front of the home crowd. But, he’s probably the greatest competitor ever at the University of Missouri in any sport, I’ve never seen anybody compete like that. It was a fun road, now he’s going to go win the national title.”
Ben Askren deflected the attention away from himself, giving his teammates credit for the second-place finish, which ties for Missouri’s best ever result.
“I’m proud of all the guys, they all wrestled hard. A few calls didn’t go our way this morning, without that, it’s our title. There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” the senior said.
With the Tigers eliminated from contention, the stage was set for a winner-take-all heavyweight match between the Cyclones’ David Zabriskie and the Cowboys’ Jared Rosholt. The match went to the final period tied at 2, but Zabriskie won the match 3-2 on an escape, sending the Iowa State fans in attendance into a frenzy and giving the Cyclones their first Big 12 title.
Iowa State picked up 66.5 points to claim the crown. Missouri finished second with 61.5 while the Cowboys settled for third with 61. Nebraska was fourth with 46 and Oklahoma finished in last with 44.
After falling just short of its goal, Missouri had plenty of close matches to look back on and wonder, “What if?” The Tigers’ Tyler McCormick lost a controversial 133-pound title match 6-5 to Oklahoma State’s Coleman Scott when he was not awarded near-fall points late in the match. Matt Pell dropped his third-place match in overtime 10-8 to Nebraska’s Stephen Dwyer at 165 pounds, and Josh Wagner had a disappointing fourth-place finish at 149 pounds. But, Missouri qualified eight wrestlers for the national championships in Detroit March 15-17, putting itself in good position for a run at the national title.
And, considering Missouri’s history, Smith said second place was a good step.
“Overall, I’m pleased our kids gave great effort,” he said. “We scored (61.5) points in this tournament, in my early days we were scoring two or three. We’ve come a long way, it just hurts because we wanted to win it.”