AMES, Iowa — Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith almost flew out of his chair as he celebrated Kenny Burleson’s Big 12 Conference championship. Smith calmed down when Ben Askren and Jeff Foust won.
Four Missouri wrestlers competed in the conference finals in Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, and three earned titles.
The top three finishers in each class and six wild-cards advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Oklahoma State won the team title with 86.5 points, and Missouri finished fourth with 43.
Burleson’s win gave Missouri a strong start.
At 157, Burleson (32-4) defeated Oklahoma State’s Johny Hendricks 3-2 in Missouri’s first finals match. Late in the third period, Hendricks led 2-1.
With 24 seconds left, Burleson got a takedown as Hendricks tried to get out of bounds to give him the winning score. Burleson spent the rest of the period with his legs locked around Hendricks’ head. It appeared Hendricks came close to escaping from the leg lock many times but Burleson said he knew he had him beat.
“I felt really comfortable there, actually, because I had my legs wrapped around his head and then I had his leg secured,” Burleson said.
Burleson was excited to earn his first conference win but knew his season wasn’t over.
“It feels good right now,” Burleson said. “I’ve done something I always wanted to do. I guess tonight I’ve got to change my focus to the nationals.”
Askren (30-4) earned a title at 174 when he defeated Oklahoma State’s Chris Pendleton 9-7. Askren took an early 6-2 lead after taking Pendleton to his back in the first period. Pendleton scored successfully for the rest of the match but couldn’t overcome the lead.
Askren also was honored as the outstanding wrestler of the tournament.
Foust (24-9) earned Missouri’s third conference title at 197 when he defeated Oklahoma State’s Rusty Blackmon 2-1. Foust earned a takedown in the first period and allowed Blackmon an escape.
Matt Pell (27-10) lost in the finals to Jake Rosholt of Oklahoma State 11-6 at 184 pounds.
The rest of the Tigers didn’t win any matches. Smith said he wasn’t happy with the way the team performed but said the tournament was more individual.
Missouri senior Jeremy Spates, ranked third in the nation, struggled Saturday. During the semifinals, Nebraska’s Travis Shufelt pinned Spates in 4:34. Spates led 4-3 when Shufelt rolled him to his back for the pin. Spates ended his day with a loss to Oklahoma’s Jeff Ecklof 4-2.
Burleson said Spates had a rough day but was confident he would bounce back during the NCAA Tournament.
Smith said Spates didn’t wrestle his best but part of the reason he didn’t succeed was his tough competition.
“It wasn’t his best day,” Smith said. “He’ll admit that. I’ll admit that. Hopefully he gets (invited to the NCAA Tournament). He should. You know you move forward.”
Spates will get a chance to end his season on a better note after receiving a wild-card bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Austin Devoe (125), Brett Watkins (133), J.P. Reese (141), Tyron Woodley (165) and heavyweight Mike Whitehead also placed fifth.