Matt Pell is a three-time NCAA qualifier. He’s an All-American with over 109 wins in his college wrestling career with a chance to move into second in career wins all-time at Missouri, behind Ben Askren. He’s also a cheap baby sitter.
Tigers coach Brian Smith said that Pell, a senior, often watches Smith’s three children.
Pell hasn’t seen his parents for over a year. They moved back to the United States from Cape Town, South Africa in December, but he hasn’t had the chance to visit them in Washington yet. He has an older brother, Nick, who wrestles at Northern Idaho and sister, Ruthy, age 16. Pell said he misses his family, but he loves spending time with Smith’s kids.
Pell said that he’s taken Quinn, 12, Kylie, 10, and Braden, 6, out to Chuckie Cheese’s and Bonkers.
“I like hanging out with them,” Pell said. “They’re a blast.”
Teammate Tyler McCormick, the only Big 12 Conference wrestler in 2006 to achieve a 4.0 GPA, said he plans to attend graduate school or law school after graduating from MU.
McCormick, a junior, was selected 2006 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District and third team Academic All-American. He was also on the 2006 National Wrestling Coaches Association’s All-Academic Team.
He’s also a great wrestler. In 2005, he won Missouri’s Marshall Esteppe Most Outstanding Freshman Award. In 2006, he was an All-American. Smith said McCormick is one of his hardest workers.
“I don’t like to be perceived as a dumb jock,” he said, adding a joke about wrestlers being compared to cavemen. “I like to be thought of as a student, and then an athlete.”
McCormick also finds time to bowl each week with members of the wrestling team.
“We pretty much hang out like a family,” McCormick said. “We’re kind of a goofy bunch of kids.”
McCormick said his bowling average is around 120, though his best is a 148. His eyes light up when he talks of spending time with his teammates having fun, though he admits that they’re “pretty much competitive in everything,” even bowling.
“I just like hanging out with the guys,” he said.
As All-Americans and contenders for an NCAA title, Pell, a 165-pounder, and McCormick, a 133-pounder, were absent on the roster when the Tigers won the Southern Scuffle on Dec. 29 and 30.
Pell said that Smith set a plan at the beginning of the year, deciding when he wanted his top wrestlers to make weight and when to rest them. McCormick said that Smith and his wrestlers decide together when they will sit to make sure they stay 100 percent for the big matches.
“He’ll tell you what he wants and then ask for input,” McCormick said. “We wanted all of our guys to be healthy and make a big run at National Duals.”
So far Smith’s plan has worked to perfection. Despite sitting two All-Americans, Missouri still overcame No. 2 Minnesota to win the 30-team Southern Scuffle.
McCormick said winning without the usual lineup is “just a cherry on top.”
Pell and McCormick will be back in the lineup Saturday for the Cliff Keen National Duals at Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The double-elimination tournament pits one team against another. Whichever team wins the dual moves on to the next round to compete against the next winning team in their bracket.
No. 1 Missouri starts against No. 14 Penn. Nine of the 16 teams competing are ranked in the top 10 nationally. Only three aren’t ranked in the top 20. Missouri finished third last year.
Smith isn’t just looking to have Pell and McCormick, two of only 25 All-Americans that have wrestled at Missouri, healthy for the National Duals. He also wants to give both of them a good shot at an NCAA title, especially Pell in his last year with the team.
Pell has had a tough but successful road thus far. After redshirting at 157 pounds his freshman year, Pell realized that he would have to find a new weight class for the 2004 season. Missouri already had a 157-pounder in senior Kenny Burleson, a 2004 All-American. Two-time All American Tyron Woodley owned 165. Ben Askren had 174. Scott Barker, a two-time All-American finished second place at the NCAA tournament at 184 pounds, but was dismissed from the team in September of 2004, opening a spot for Pell.
Pell had to jump three weight classes just to wrestle. Smith said when he talked to Pell about moving to 184, Pell made the decision overnight.
“I’ll do it,” he told Smith the next day, anxious to wrestle wherever he could fit in the roster.
Pell finished 31-12 and qualified for the NCAA tournament his freshman year. As a sophomore, Pell was an All-American at 184 with a 35-10 record, finishing seventh at the NCAA tournament, though he never wrestled weighing more than 178, often giving up nearly 10 pounds to his opponent.
Pell still remembers his first match at 184 against Oklahoma State’s Justin Dyer in February 2004. He pinned Dyer and MU beat Oklahoma State, something that no one thought would happen. Missouri had gone 0-32 against Oklahoma State before the win.
He also remembers his most embarrassing moment at 184, losing to Oklahoma State’s Jake Rosholt a the Big 12 Championships in Ames, Iowa. Pell led the match 5-2 but made a costly mistake. Rosholt pinned him with a three-quarter nelson.
“It was a beginner’s move,” Pell said with a grin.
Woodley graduated last year, opening 165 for Pell. He dropped the two weight classes and qualified for the NCAA tournament at 165, but fell just short of All-American honors after having to adjust to smaller, quicker wrestlers as opposed to the slower but stronger 184-pound wrestlers.
“If they get to your legs,” Pell said of his 184-pound opponents, “there’s a good chance they’ll pick you up and finish it.”
Pell still recorded 10 wins by fall against the bigger opponents.
“That just shows how talented he is,” Smith said.
Smith said that Pell began as a quiet freshman but has developed a lot of leadership abilities.
“It’s just really fun to see,” Smith said.
Pell, 10-1 this season, said he struggled with making weight last year, but he has a done a better job this year of being disciplined with his diet and exercise. Pell said he is 100 percent ready this year.
“I definitely feel real good this year,” he said.
McCormick, a captain for the second time this season, is coming off of an impressive fifth place at the NCAA tournament last year. McCormick said he started wrestling when he was 4 because of his older brother Chris, a former Tigers wrestler and the current Director of Wresting Operations at Missouri.
“There weren’t even shoes small enough for me yet,” Tyler McCormick said.
McCormick, 7-4 this season, said that all of his losses this year have been painful, especially the loss against Pittsburgh at home on Dec. 21.
“Every time you lose, it’s heartbreaking,” he said.
He said the loss by fall to Drew Headlee in front of the record-breaking crowd at the first home dual of the season hurt the worst.
McCormick said he is looking for Missouri to make a stand at the NCAA tournament after finishing 15th as a team last year. McCormick said he would love to see the team finish the year as No. 1.
“We’re so much more talented than we’ve been in the past,” he said. “We just expect to win every match.”
Smith said McCormick has developed into a great wrestler, though he doesn’t get many pins, something that McCormick is trying to focus on after a 31-9 record last year. Of the wins, 22 came by decision and only four by fall. Four came by major decision and one by technical fall.
“He’s never going to wow you with his wrestling,” Smith said. “He may not be the flashiest, but he just goes out and wins. He’s ready to roll for the National Duals.”
McCormick is expected to start Saturday with a tough match against another All-American, Penn’s 133-pound national champion Matt Valenti. McCormick was 2-2 last year at the National Duals, all four matches going to a decision.
Despite fellow All-American Ben Askren’s success and constant media attention, Pell and McCormick said they don’t feel as if they’re in the shadow of the Dan Hodge trophy winner for most outstanding wrestler.
“What Ben’s doing is great,” Pell said. “I see how hard he works, how much time he puts in. He deserves everything he gets.”
Pell said he enjoys playing disc golf with Askren, something that Askren is quite good at, finishing 46th at the amateur world disc golf championship last year. Pell added that he is proud to be Askren’s friend.
“We’re all supporting each other,” McCormick said.