With its highest national ranking in five years, the No. 7 Missouri wrestling team will step into the squared circle for the first time this season against Old Dominion and Purdue on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind.
For it only being their first weekend, many of Tiger wrestlers will be facing ranked opponents.
Junior 125-pounder Alan Waters ended last season with a 29-4 record, along with a Big 12 Conference championship and an NCAA Tournament qualification. He starts the season No. 5 in the nation and faces No. 17 Camden Eppert (3-1) from Purdue.
Senior 133-pounder Nathan McCormick will see the highest ranked competition for the Tigers, facing Old Dominion’s top-10 Justin LaValle. LaValle was the same man who knocked off senior 141-pounder Nicholas Hucke in the NCAA Tournament last year.
At No. 6 in 197 pounds, senior Brent Haynes will have his hands full with another Purdue wrestler in No. 17 Braden Atwood.
Haynes already has his mindset on further down the road.
“It’s good to get quality wins right off the bat and boost your confidence,” Haynes said. “I don’t put too much thought into the beginning of the season. Sure, it can get you on a roll, but either way you still have a whole season ahead of you. What matters is nationals.”
Coach Brian Smith said that ranked opposition early will help set the tone for the season.
“I’ve always scheduled pretty tough teams,” he said. “I know Old Dominion has one of their best teams coming back and Purdue has four or five ranked guys. It’s going to be a good task, but I know our guys are ready and excited to compete for it.”
Even though it will be tough competition, many of the wrestlers are just happy to be facing off against someone other than their own teammates in practice.
“It’s nice,” Hucke said. “We’ve been wrestling each other all summer, so we’re ready for some other guys and get some competition.”
Some of the wrestlers are even bored facing each other so many times.
“I’ve been training here all the way through the summer against the same guys,” Haynes said. “Even last week in the Black & Gold (scrimmage) it got kind of boring. You wrestle the same guys over and over, so you know what they’re going to do.”
After spending last season attempting to qualify for the Olympic team, senior heavyweight Dom Bradley returns to the Tigers ranked No. 2 in the nation. Bradley kicked off his season last weekend in the 2012 NWCA All-Star Classic in Washington, D.C., where he successfully defeated No. 5 Mike McMullan, 3-2.
Bradley will square off against Old Dominion’s Matt Tourdot (6-1) and Purdue’s Alex White (2-2) on Saturday.