All 10 starters on the Missouri wrestling team were present Monday when the Tigers hosted media day for Saturday’s Big 12 Championships. Everyone appeared healthy and coach Brian Smith said his wrestlers will be ready on Saturday.
That’s the best news that Tiger fans have heard in weeks. Missouri has not had its full starting lineup intact since a Jan. 28 win over Nebraska.
Since then, eight starters have missed at least one dual because of injury or illness. In the Tigers’ Feb. 11 loss to Iowa State, they were without
starters Tyler McCormick and Michael Chandler, and in their Feb. 18 loss to Tennessee-Chattanooga the Tigers forfeited at five weight classes because of the flu.
Raymond Jordan, at 184 pounds, and heavyweight Mark Ellis were the only Missouri starters who were able to stay healthy for the entire season.
Jordan said it was tough to practice with many of his teammates out and that he was happy to have them back to help him prepare for the postseason.
“It’s really nice to have those guys said. “They all have different styles, and it prepares you for anything you see in a match.”
Jordan, along with Ben and Max Askren, is expected to be one of three top seeds for Missouri at Saturday’s meet. All five teams competing rank in the top 20 in the nation. The favorites are No. 2 Iowa State, the No. 3 Tigers and No. 4 Oklahoma State.
“The competition is going to be tough,” Missouri 165-pounder Matt Pell said. “For me, it’s an exciting feeling more than anything, to be in a position where I have an opportunity to do something truly great.”
Pell willbe challenged. The 165-pound class will feature No. 1 Johny Hendricks of Oklahoma State and No. 3 Travis Paulson of Iowa State, along with No. 7 Pell. No. 2 Max Askren will be the slight favorite in a tough 197-pound field that has four of the nation’s top 11 wrestlers. The 125-pound and 157-pound weight classes will also have four top wrestlers competing.
The all-day event will begin at 11 a.m. at Hearnes Center.
The tournament will determine how many wrestlers each team will send to the National Championships in Detroit March 15-17. The top three finishers in each weight class will earn automatic bids and the coaches will meet after the event to determine eight wild cards who will also advance to Detroit. With the tournament having such an influence on the teams’ national championship chances, the environment is expected to be intense. The Tigers say they think everyone on their team is capable of qualifying.
“That’s what makes this team so good,” McCormick said. “We have a lot of No. 1 seeds going into the tournament, but we also have a lot of two and three seeds. We have a lot of confidence going into it. I know myself, I plan on winning, and I have a lot of confidence in all these other guys that they’re all going to step up. We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to have 10 guys in the finals. I think everyone has that confidence that everyone’s going to be in the finals and we’re not going to need any wild cards because everyone’s going to qualify on their own.”
Missouri has not won a Big 12 title in any men’s sport since the league’s creation, and the school’s only Big 12 championship was a softball crown in 1997. The Tiger wrestlers hope to change that this weekend.
“(A Big 12 Championship) would be big for the community, for the state,” Smith said. “For our program it would be another stepping stone. We’re one of the team favorites, so there’s that hope in the community that there’s a chance for this to happen. Of course, we believe it.”