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Missouri wrestling’s season ends with elation for Cox, disappointment for others

J’den Cox became the first wrestler in Missouri history to win three national championships in a career.

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Maneater File Photo

March 18, 2017

After running the table in Friday night’s matches, the Missouri Tigers wrestling team was looking to ride its momentum to one more day of unexpected victories at the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships in St. Louis.

And while J’den Cox walked away with his third national championship, winning was not in the cards for his teammates.

No. 10 Missouri’s Cinderella run at the Scottrade Center came to an end Saturday night, as the Tigers lost in five of seven matches, and in two of three championship matches. The team finished fifth at this year’s championships.

Coach Brian Smith said he was happy the team improved on last year’s sixth-place finish but was disappointed they couldn’t find the way to finish a little higher.

“The takeaway is, next year, we have to get more champs,” Smith said. “Our goal this year was to get more in the finals… but we’ve never had multiple national champions. That’s our next ceiling.”

Saturday wasn’t a total wash for Missouri, as Cox, a senior, became the first wrestler in program history to win three national championships, when he defeated Brett Pfarr of Minnesota 8-2 in the 197-pounder title match and successfully defended his crown from last year.

Cox said that although his team’s finish was unfortunate, he was happy to win another title and is appreciative of his time as a wrestler at Missouri.

“I’m honored to have accomplished another great feat, not only for myself but for my school, for my teammates and for my family,“ he said.

With Cox’s historic victory, speculation will only increase as to whether he is the greatest athlete in Missouri history in any sport, a conversation he said he’s honored to be included in.

“It’s nice to be recommended,” Cox said. “I didn’t do this for the accolades… I did it for the love of the sport. But for people to say that, I’m honored to be put in that category.”

Cox finished his senior season 24-0, and 73-3 in his career at Missouri.

Missouri got a solid performance from redshirt freshman Jaydin Eierman as well, who defeated Rutgers’ Anthony Ashnault for fifth place in the 141-pound weight class after falling to Bryce Meredith of Wyoming in the third place consolation match. By finishing in the top eight in his weight class, Eierman also became the fourth-straight freshman All-American for Missouri, following Daniel Lewis in 2016, Willie Miklus in 2015 and Cox in 2014.

Mizzou redshirt sophomore Daniel Lewis was unable to continue Eierman’s consolation momentum. Lewis dropped both of his matches, falling to sixth in the 165-pound weight class. Despite a disappointing final day, Lewis received his second-straight All-American honors. He is the 20th Mizzou wrestler with two or more All-American honors.

In the championship session, Penn State’s Zain Retherford, who previously was 27-0 this season, defeated redshirt senior Lavion Mayes 18-2 by technical fall. After Mayes jumped out to a 2-0 lead, he appeared to run out of gas, and Retherford completely dominated the match.

After the match, Mayes said he pulled a muscle in his abdomen a few weeks ago and was significantly hindered by it in his championship match. Despite the disappointing ending, he finished his career as a three-time All-American.

In the 157-pounder title match, Jason Nolf of Penn State defeated redshirt junior Joey Lavallee. Lavallee earned All-American honors for the first time in his career this season and was wrestling in his first career championship match. He said he believes his team will be able to weather the losses of Cox and Mayes going forward.

“We’re going to need some guys to step up and fill some big shoes,” Lavallee said. “I don’t doubt any guys on our team because we have great depth. I just want to help those guys... and say, ‘hey, this is what I did wrong as an individual, this is what you can learn from.’”

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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