“Expect to win.”
That is the slogan on the wall of the new wrestling practice facility, which was officially opened Saturday afternoon. The new room is cleaner, with state-of-the-art equipment. It is also about three times the size of the old practice room.
Yet, this week, No. 13 Missouri has been practicing in the old room.
“I put them in the old room,” coach Brian Smith said. “I told them we beat Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Nebraska when we practice in the old room. The new room is a room we expect to go for a national title, it’s a national championship caliber room that past people earned. But right now, the way they wrestled on Saturday, they don’t deserve to be in that room.”
The new room honors the first two All-Americans in Missouri history, Terrill Williams (1977) and Keith Whelan (1979). In addition, the new cardiovascular room was provided by donations from the 1967-68 team which went undefeated.
“It’s more of just a wake-up call that ‘guys, you have it pretty good, you’ve got to perform,’” Smith said.
Smith says practices have been more intense after the team was “shocked” by the film of Saturday’s performance.
“These guys always practice hard, I just think it’s more of a quiet intensity now,” Smith said. “There’s not as much laughter in the room and you don’t want there to be. We got our butts kicked, so you shouldn’t be excited.”
Only three Missouri wrestlers won against Nebraska. No. 1 Ben Askren (174) improved to 26-0 with his school record 19th pin of the season. Tyler McCormick (133) won, and No. 8 Tyron Woodley (165) pulled off an upset.
Askren has been challenged to keep his teammates’ spirits high.
“It’s frustrating for me too, it’s not just my teammates,” Askren said. “Keep trying to push my beliefs and style on everyone else.”
Missouri needs to get back to winning this weekend, but that won’t come easy. It takes on No. 1 Oklahoma State on Friday night in Stillwater.
The Cowboys return six starters from last year’s squad and has top-ranked wrestlers in four weight classes. Only one Cowboy is not ranked in the top-20.
After defeating No. 4 Jacob Klein of Nebraska on Saturday, Woodley, MU’s senior captain, faces another challenge from No. 3 Johny Hendricks.
Askren also faces tough competition in OSU’s Chris Pendleton. Pendleton and Askren are ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively.
“(Oklahoma State is) going to have a fired-up crowd cause we were the only team to beat them in the Big 12 (last year),” Smith said. “I know they get 7,000-9,000 people for matches so it’s going to be an atmosphere where our guys have to get used to that — a hostile crowd.”
Things don’t get any easier. The Tigers then travel to Norman, Okla., for a matinee with No. 6 Oklahoma at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Sooners return seven members of last year’s team and have seven ranked in the top-20 in their weight class.
No. 19 Jeff Foust, a Missouri junior, faces a particularly hard weekend at 197 pounds. He faces OSU’s No. 1 Jake Rosholt on Friday, then on Saturday he battles No. 15 Joel Flaggert of Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma’s banged up so I don’t know what lineup we’re going to see from them,” Smith said. “But, it doesn’t matter. Our kids have to focus on what they can do best. I tell them that all the time. If they worry about what they can control, their positioning, their techniques, then everything takes care of itself.”
If everything does take care of itself, maybe then the Tigers can use the new facility for practice.