The Maneater

Choose your favorite Missouri sports moment of the year with this bracket

Sports editor Bennett Durando and outgoing sports editor Joe Noser ranked their top moments of the season. Now you can rank yours.

The Maneater's top eight Missouri sports moments of the year, in bracket form.

After a year of ups and downs for Missouri sports, here is The Maneater’s definitive seeding of the top eight moments. As for which one prevails and stands alone as the greatest moment of the year? That’s up to you. Before you make your picks on Twitter, read up here on each moment.

1 Karissa Schweizer wins her fourth and fifth national championships

2 Eierman’s pin helps checkmate Oklahoma State, highlights perfect season for Missouri wrestling

3 Missouri volleyball conquers Kansas in NCAA Tournament installment of Border War

4 Big, Blue, Beaten: Missouri downs Calipari, Kentucky in milestone win

5 Megan Cunningham’s emotional return leads to an SEC championship

6 Basketball revival ends in first NCAA Tournament in five years for Missouri

7 Sophie Cunningham’s career day helps Tigers top Tennessee in front of record crowd

8 Odom’s tangent turns tide for Missouri football

No. 1 seed: Karissa Schweizer wins her fourth and fifth national championships

Schweizer’s place in Missouri athletics lore was already locked up going into her senior year. Expectations for her were sky high following a prolific junior year that saw her win the distance triple crown, becoming the first to accomplish the feat since Texas Tech’s Sally Kipyego in 2008.

Schweizer was going for the distance triple crown once again in the 2017-2018 year. Although she came up short at the NCAA cross-country championships in November, she’s more than made up for it with a slew of record-breaking performances during her senior year.

On March 9 and March 10, Schweizer won the fourth and fifth NCAA championships of her career, becoming the winningest individual athlete in school history. She surpassed J’den Cox, who won three national championships during his time wrestling at Missouri and graduated in 2017.

Her victory on March 9 came in the indoor 5,000-meter run, finishing in 15:43, four seconds ahead of the second place finisher. The next day she won the 3,000-meter national championship, finishing in 8:53, securing her rightful spot as the greatest athlete in Missouri history.

No. 8 seed: Odom’s tangent turns tide for Missouri football

It was just another monotonous drubbing, and then it wasn’t. Missouri football head coach Barry Odom, fresh off a 51-14 embarrassment to Auburn in front of a small home crowd, stepped to the podium and addressed local media with his now-famed “State of the Program” speech.

Odom’s fiery speech — and his ensuing burning of a cooler full of memorabilia from the team’s 1-5 start at a team meeting — sparked a change in his Tigers team. After a loss in a relatively competitive game to No. 2 Georgia the next week, the Tigers rattled off six straight wins to end the season and secure a berth to the program’s first bowl game since 2014.

While Missouri got rocked in the Texas Bowl against the Texas Longhorns, the team’s turnaround was still the first encouraging sign for Tigers fans in quite some time. It may have also saved Odom’s job; he signed a two-year contract extension in December.

No. 4 seed: Big, Blue, Beaten: Missouri downs Calipari, Kentucky in milestone win

The Southeastern Conference has never been revered for its men’s hoops, but its patron saint of basketball is another story. Kentucky is college basketball royalty, a historically elite program whose esteemed current head coach, John Calipari, recruits many of the best players in the country year after year.

Even in what was considered a weak year for the program, 2017-18 was no different in terms of talent: The Wildcats’ roster was stacked with multiple “one-and-done” NBA-bound freshmen.

But on Feb. 3 at Mizzou Arena, that didn’t matter. The Tigers knocked off then-No. 21 Kentucky 69-60 in front of a sold-out crowd. It was Missouri’s first-ever triumph against Big Blue; the Tigers had lost in all 10 previous tries since joining the SEC in 2012.

This time, senior leaders Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett each scored 16, while Kevin Knox, one of Kentucky’s star freshmen who chose Calipari over Missouri, was held to 5. After holding Kentucky to 18 points in the first half, a thrilling second frame secured a landmark win for Missouri’s NCAA Tournament hopes and a milestone victory against one of college basketball’s biggest names.

No. 5 seed: Megan Cunningham’s emotional return leads to an SEC championship

Returning to run at all could have been enough for Megan Cunningham.

The senior long distance runner was in a horrific car accident in July 2015 that left her father paralyzed and left her with a broken neck, shattered skull and bleeding inside her brain. She had to learn how to walk again. Then she relearned how to run.

Returning to competition full time during the 2017 cross-country season, Cunningham ran well for the Tigers, earning an all-region nod with a 20:29 6,000-meter race in November. Her performances in the indoor season were even more significant.

After years of grueling rehabilitation and training, Cunningham won the final race of her 2018 SEC indoor season. Running in the 5,000-meter race, Cunningham inspired with a 15:53 race that won her the SEC championship in the event. The time was 23.57 seconds faster than her next competitor.

“I was crying as soon as I crossed the finish line,” Cunningham told ESPN’s John Anderson after the race. “I’m just so happy … everything I’ve done to come back is for [my dad].”

No. 3 seed: Volleyball conquers Kansas in NCAA Tournament installment of Border War

Winning in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is one thing. Doing it against a longtime, bitter rival in that bitter rival’s home state? Now that’s a different thing altogether.

Missouri’s volleyball team did just that on Dec. 1 when it beat the Kansas Jayhawks 3-2 in a thrilling five-set victory in Wichita, Kansas. The win propelled the Tigers into the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they promptly defeated the Wichita State Shockers 3-1 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the second straight year before being dispatched 3-0 by No. 1 Penn State.

The volleyball team has had the most success in postseason play of any Missouri team in the last three years.

No. 6 seed: Basketball revival ends in first NCAA Tournament in five years for Missouri

No Michael Porter Jr., no problem. Four months after the freshman phenom and Columbia’s talk of the town was sidelined with a back injury on opening night, Missouri completed its 180-degree turn from 24-loss, spiraling write-offs to NCAA Tournament bound, 20-game winners.

Seated in a line courtside at Mizzou Arena in front of an intimate gathering of fans, the Missouri athletes looked up at the jumbotron as they were announced as a No. 8 seed in the Big Dance. It was the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013, capping a turnaround initiated by head coach Cuonzo Martin in his first season with the Tigers.

The Tigers’ run was cut short in the first round with a loss to Florida State, but they finished 20-13 overall and as the fifth-place team in the reinvigorated SEC.

No. 2 seed: Eierman’s pin helps checkmate Oklahoma State, highlights perfect season for Missouri wrestling

Without three-time national champion J’den Cox in the lineup, 2017-18 marked the beginning of a new era for Missouri wrestling. Faced with an early deficit against its most imposing opponent of the season and with a perfect record in the balance, it was naturally time for a new star to emerge.

Enter Jaydin Eierman.

The redshirt sophomore sent a jolt through the Tigers by dramatically pinning two-time defending national champion Dean Heil in Stillwater. The colossal six-point fall got Missouri on the board and cut into a 9-0 deficit against top-five opponent Oklahoma State on Jan. 27.

After Eierman sparked the comeback, Missouri rallied and went on to edge the Cowboys 21-19 in one of the country’s most anticipated duals of the year. Eierman’s pin was the defining moment in that 16th Missouri triumph. The Tigers went on to complete their undefeated season with a 19-0 record.

No. 7 seed: Sophie Cunningham’s career day helps Tigers top Tennessee in front of record crowd

The 11,092 fans on hand to see Tennessee come to town might’ve been enough to make it a special moment for most home teams.

Not Sophie Cunningham’s Missouri Tigers.

The junior and eventual All-American honorable mention scored 32 points and led Missouri to a 77-73 win over No. 11 Tennessee on Feb. 18. Those 11,092 in attendance were the most ever at a Missouri women’s basketball game, adorned in pink for the Play4Kay fundraiser against breast cancer.

And on the court, the Tigers won a thriller against one of the titans of women’s college hoops. They fought off a 15-point second-half comeback; Cunningham sunk shot after shot down the stretch; then, the crowd helped deal the decisive blow.

Tennessee was fouled on a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but needing to make all three free throws to tie it and force overtime, the Missouri faithful got loud. Tennessee only made one, and the Tigers had their signature victory en route to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Edited by Ashley Dorf | adorf@themaneater.com

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