The Maneater

Five Missouri wrestlers to watch this season

Jaydin Eierman and Grant Leeth return as the new leaders for Missouri’s perennially top-tier team.

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With just three returning seniors on the Missouri wrestling roster and the season under two months away, juniors and underclassmen will have to step up in order for the Tigers to secure an eighth straight Mid-American Conference championship in 2019. Here are five wrestlers to watch who will need to compete at a high level in order for the Tigers to continue their championship tradition in the MAC:

The No-Brainers

These two wrestlers functioned as safety blankets for coach Brian Smith last season with consistent, dominant play at their respective weight classes. Following top-10 finishes at the NCAA wrestling championships in each of their respective weight classes, Jaydin Eierman and Grant Leeth both could be national title contenders in the 2018-19 campaign.

Jaydin Eierman, redshirt junior

Eierman heads into the 2018-19 season as one of the clear-cut best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the country, known for an unorthodox technique on the mat.

Following the departure of three-time national champion J’den Cox, Eierman, who calls Cox an “older brother,” stepped up multiple times throughout the season to help lead the Tigers to victory.

In one of Missouri’s first true tests of the season against Oklahoma State on Jan. 27, Eierman pinned two-time defending national champion Dean Heil. This crucial fall served as a jolt of energy for the Tigers, as they were down 9-0 early on before Eierman’s crucial pin.

Eierman stayed in strong form this season and put himself in a position to compete for a MAC championship. After defeating Central Michigan’s 10th ranked Mason Smith 24-9 on a technical fall, Eierman took home his second straight MAC title in the 141 pound weight class.

The Columbia native set a career high in wins (32) and falls (16). In fact, his 16 wins by fall rank ninth all time in program history for total falls in a single season. Along with three other teammates, Eierman advanced all the way to the final session of NCAA championships. Eierman ultimately finished fourth in the 141 weight class with an overall record of 4-2, which is an improvement from his fifth place finish at the 2016-17 NCAA championships. The Tolton Catholic product heads into the season as one of the premier wrestlers in the 141 pound weight division, and will definitely have his eyes set on a national title this season.

Grant Leeth, redshirt sophomore

Along with Eierman, Grant Leeth enters the 2018-19 season as the other clear-cut national title contender in his weight class on this Missouri roster. Leeth’s journey to becoming one of the top wrestlers in the nation differs drastically in comparison to Eierman’s.

A torn meniscus in his third tournament as a member of the Duke wrestling program caused Leeth to weigh his options as a freshman in 2014. The Kearney, Missouri native decided it was best for him to transfer to MU to be closer to home in light of the injury.

Leeth thought he could get back on the mat in time for the 2015-16 following successful rehab, but he found himself in the doctor’s office once again. It turns out Leeth had a disc herniation closing off nerve endings in his neck that caused him to lose feeling in his left arm at times.

Different injury, same result: another missed season. Once Leeth overcame his second career-threatening injury, another setback was staring him right in the face: Leeth tore his meniscus again, forcing him to sit out for another six months.

Despite missing two complete seasons due to three different injuries, Leeth returned for the 2017-18 season like he never missed a beat, going 25-6 in his first season as an attached wrestler for Missouri with a 16-0 mark in dual competition.

This surprisingly dominant season from Leeth lead culminated in him winning a conference title in the MAC at 149 pounds by defeating Ohio’s Kade Kowalski 9-0.

Leeth continued this impressive play at the NCAA championships, where he placed 6th in his weight class via a 4-3 overall performance with three wins over ranked opponents. Barring another catastrophic injury, Grant Leeth heads into the 2018-19 season as a favorite to compete for a national championship in the 149 pound weight class.

The Sleepers

These two wrestlers have not received national attention like some of their teammates this year, but barring a break out performance this forthcoming season, Alex Butler and Austin Myers could very well find themselves competing for a MAC championship in their respective weight classes and eventually at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.

Alex Butler, redshirt junior

Coming off an impressive 20-8 overall record from last season, Alex Butler will need to be a staple of consistency for coach Smith in the 149-pound weight class. Butler got off to a hot start in the 2017-18 season by winning his first seven bouts. If he is able to come out of the gates hot again this year, Butler will have the necessary confidence heading into MAC play. Having competed in 58 bouts at MAC and NCAA Championships throughout his career, the junior out of Rockford, Illinois will need to step up and lead with his veteran presence this upcoming season.

Austin Myers, redshirt junior:

After an outstanding first year with the Tigers in 2016-17, in which he qualified for the NCAA Tournament and finished third overall at the MAC Championships, Austin Myers was unable to get back to that level a season ago, despite posting a record of 11-6. His highlight moment was a walk-off decision early in the season for Missouri.

But the potential for the Kentucky native to lead the 285-pound weight class for Smith is undoubtedly there. Myers placed second at the Lindenwood Open, going 4-1 in his matches throughout the tournament.

The Newcomer

The lone heavyweight of nine incoming freshmen on the Missouri roster, the Kansas City native headlines the incoming class of 2022.

Zach Elam, true freshman

Elam heads into his freshman year at Missouri with an exceptional track record at the state and national levels. Having won two Class 4 Missouri state championships while wrestling for Staley High School, Elam ranks as the second-best 220-pound wrestler in the class of 2022 according to most rankings, including Flowrestling and Intermat.

A two-sport athlete in high school who fielded offers in football from Cincinnati and Navy as well as wrestling offers from Big 12 powerhouses Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Elam was a challenging recruit to reel in for Smith.

Bolstering his impressive resume even further, Elam won the national championship in the 220 weight division at the 2017 Junior Freestyle Nationals.

Despite his dominance at the high school level locally and nationally, will Elam be a game-changing athlete out of the gate who can compete for a MAC Championship in the heavyweight class, or will he take a year or two to develop into a conference championship contender? He’ll compete with Myers for the starting spot at the heavyweight class.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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