The season is young, but expectations are high for the Missouri wrestling team entering the Missouri Open today.
The Tigers, ranked 10th in the nation, host the fifth-annual event in the Hearnes Center Fieldhouse starting at 9 a.m.
More than 10 teams will send participants, and more than 400 wrestlers are expected to compete.
Among them will be many returning NCAA qualifiers, a handful of them from Missouri.
Tigers Matt Pell, Jeff Foust, Tyron Woodley and Brad Cieleski all have NCAA experience. Woodley is a 2003 All-American, and Cieleski, a three-time qualifier, transferred to MU from Slippery Rock for his final year of eligibility.
Last year’s 174-pound runner-up, Ben Askren, will not participate for the Tigers. Askren will sit out in preparation to face Chris Pendleton, who beat him for the championship last season, in the NWCA All-Star Classic on Monday.
Missouri defeated Purdue 25-10 Friday in their first dual of the season. The Boilermakers came in ranked 19th, providing a good early season test for the Tigers.
Coach Brian Smith said he hopes that today’s tournament will give him an even better idea of his team’s make-up this season.
“We have a young team but an experienced team,” Smith, who has 25 underclassmen in addition to the returning NCAA qualifiers, said. “We have about three or four kids that this will be their first time wearing a Missouri singlet. So that’s hard to read, hard to put a ranking on. This early there are a lot of unknowns.”
Smith said he likes the balance of having several freshmen and seniors together in the lineup, and that it bodes well for the program’s future.
The Tigers are focused on improving on last year’s Open performance, in which they placed five wrestlers in championship rounds, and departed senior Jeremy Spates was the only Tiger to finish first.
They will compete against wrestlers from Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Old Dominion, Tennessee-Chattanooga, Eastern Illinois, North Carolina, and Big 12 foe Oklahoma among others.
Most of the smaller colleges in Missouri will also be represented.
Illinois, Oklahoma and Purdue are ranked in the top 20, with the Illini and Sooners both in the top eight.
“The Big 10 has that certain style. It’s very, very aggressive in your face wrestling,” Smith said. “I like to wrestle against the Big 10 teams just to get used to seeing them, because we’re going to face them at the NCAA’s. That’s why we schedule them … to see how you shape up, how you deal with that, and it’s fun for us.”
Smith said he is confident about his team based on their practice and performance at the Central Missouri State University open, leading to the team’s lofty expectations.
“We want to keep getting better. We want to win a national championship,” Smith said.