No. 7 Missouri wrestling will hit the road this weekend for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational in Las Vegas.
The tournament features seven teams ranked in the top 25 and 85 of the wrestlers are ranked in the top 20 in their respective weight classes. Coach Brian Smith and the rest of the Tigers look at this tournament as their first big test of the season and preparation for the national tournament in March.
This is the first time Missouri has participated in this tournament since 2007, when the Tigers took second.
The tournament is two days long and is scored for individuals and teams, which is similar to the NCAA National Championships in March. Smith said the format factored into why the Tigers are returning to Las Vegas after five years.
“We put Vegas back on the schedule because it’s one of the tougher team tournaments in the country,” Smith said. “They keep a team score, and there’s about 45 teams out there so this will really be a good indicator of where we’re at.”
Senior Brent Haynes said he believes this tournament is a good preparation for the national tournament.
“There are going to be a lot of really tough guys there, so anytime you go to a tournament and there is more than just one good opponent it’s going to prepare you for nationals,” Haynes said. “You’re not going to have just one tough guy at nationals, every guy is tough. Having four or five tough guys in a tournament kind of gets you ready for that.”
The seventh-ranked Tigers have the second best ranking of any team in the tournament, trailing only to No. 5 Ohio State.
One of the teams Missouri will likely face off with is fellow Mid-American Conference member Kent State. Smith said facing them will benefit Missouri down the road.
“If we can bump into some of them in the bracket and some of their guys, that will be good for seeding at the conference,” Smith said. “I know they’re a good team.”
The Tigers have had success over the years at other multi-day tournaments. Last year the team finished third at the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tenn. and won the Big 12 Championships.
Mike Larson, 184-pound senior, credits a lot of the team’s previous success to the team’s endurance.
“I think a big thing for us is our endurance and we’re in such good shape,” Larson said. “You know later on in the tournament in some wrestle backs people start laying down and do not wrestle as hard because they’ve already had five or six matches in a day. They’re tired. I think that the coaches get us in really good shape, and we’re prepared for those long seven, eight matches.”
Smith said he has seen consistency in his team so far this season and he would like to see it continue into the team’s first tournament.
“I just want to see our guys wrestle with consistency, working on the things we are working on here,” Smith said. “We’ve shown improvement in every match, now we just have to keep it going into a tournament.”