Last weekend was one the Missouri wrestling team would like to forget.
After falling to No. 1 Oklahoma State 31-9 on Friday, the No. 13 Tigers lost again a mere 14 hours later to No. 6 Oklahoma 18-14.
Tigers coach Brian Smith said it was a learning experience for some of his wrestlers.
“I told people at the beginning of the year when we were ranked high; I said ‘I don’t know about this team yet because there’s a lot of inexperienced people coming into the lineup, and they’re getting it right now,” Smith said.
“They’re getting the experience with Oklahoma State and the big crowds and the bands and Cowboys shooting at you and crowd yelling at you. That’s an atmosphere that isn’t easy to wrestle in. But Oklahoma — we had opportunities to win and didn’t get it, and lost a close one.”
The Tigers (13-5, 0-3 Big 12 Conference) play host to the Iowa State Cyclones at 1 p.m. Sunday at Hearnes Center.
“They’re a real good team,” Missouri sophomore Ben Askren said. “They’ve got good guys at every weight.”
The Cyclones beat the Tigers 20-15 last year and return nine members from that team. Eight of Iowa State’s wrestlers are ranked in the top 20 in their weight class, including No. 1 Nate Gallick (141 pounds) and No. 2 Kurt Backes (184).
No. 8 Tyron Woodley takes on No. 5 Travis Paulson at 165 pounds, while No. 11 Matt Pell battles Backes. Pell was successful last weekend, picking up victories in each meet, including a 12-3 victory against Oklahoma’s Justin Dyer.
“Matt Pell looked really, really good,” Smith said. “We kind of gave him a new game plan and he loves it. His confidence is just coming out of him and he feels great.”
At 174 pounds, Askren is No. 2 at 26-1 with 19 pins, but he suffered his first defeat of the season against Oklahoma State, losing a 4-3 decision to No. 1 Chris Pendleton. He bounced back to defeat Oklahoma’s E.K. Waldhaus the next day..
“Like I’ve been saying all year, it’s my measuring stick and it’s all about practice for the NCAA Finals,” Askren said. “I beat (Pendleton) in Big 12’s last year, and after I lost to him in the national finals it didn’t seem like I ever beat him. I was a lot more confident after this one then the last one. I felt like I was a lot more offensive, I attacked more. I thought my mind-set was a lot better going into the match and I’m happier with it than the last one.”
Askren’s first loss of the season makes the accomplishments of former ISU great Cael Sanderson even more remarkable. Sanderson was undefeated in his four years as a Cyclone, with a record of 159-0 with 61 pins.
While comparisons are unfair, Smith said he sees some similarities between Sanderson and his young star. Smith witnessed Sanderson first hand when he coached against him from 1998-2002.
“They both have motors that never stop,” Smith said. “Sanderson had better low-level attacks, but Ben’s more of a pinner. Sanderson pinned a lot of people, but I don’t think near what Ben does. If Ben gets on top of you in a situation, he’s going to put you on your back.”
Despite its conference record, Missouri isn’t on its back just yet
“Dual meets mean everything and they mean nothing,” Smith said. “I’d rather coach 20 individual national titles than an undefeated dual meet team. Everything really matters at the end of March, but you’ve got to get them there and that’s what all this is working towards.”
However, Smith’s success in his five-year tenure at Missouri brings expectations of victories in dual meets, particularly in-conference.
“Part of turning a program around is teaching them how to win,” Smith said. “Winning individually and winning as a team, and we’re doing that consistently now.
“Now, it’s at the point where the community’s let down when we lose in the Big 12, which is good. It used to be, ‘they lost, no big deal.’ Now, they expect us to win, which is good.”