Houdashelt advances to the finals

The No. 1 wrestler is the last Missouri Tiger still alive in the winner’s bracket.
Missouri Tigers wrestler Drake Houdashelt celebrates after his victory in the semifinals March 20, 2015, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS –– Experience made the difference for senior Drake Houdashelt in his third semifinal appearance.

Houdashelt said his past visits to the NCAA semifinal round helped in his 4-0 victory over Cornell’s Chris Villalonga.

The cameras in his face, the mat setup, the fans and everything else that encompasses the spectacle of Saturday’s semifinal round of the NCAA wrestling championships at the Scottrade Center, Houdashelt was ready for it.

He could focus on wrestling, something Houdashelt does better than most of the wrestlers at the tournament. He entered the tournament with the top seeding, and he continued his dominance during the first two days of competition to face Edinboro’s David Habat in the final match.

“He’s a special kid,” Missouri coach Brian Smith said. “He’s a three-time All-American, four-time conference champion. He always gets overshadowed.”

Houdashelt’s previous trips to the semifinals did not go as smoothly. Last year, he was upset in the final seconds of the match by Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern. Coach Brian Smith said he wrestled that match with a snapped hamstring. He later faced Habat and lost to finish in fifth place.

For a Tiger team with high aspirations, Houdashelt is the last hope for a team that sits in fifth place Friday night with 60 points. With Ohio State holding a commanding lead, the team title will have to wait for next year.

However, Houdashelt won’t be able to help next year. Saturday night will be his final night in a black and gold singlet, and he intends to go out on top.

“Honestly, my goal is to come here and win a national championship,” he said. “Whoever I face, I face.”

Houdashelt is the only Tiger wrestling in the final round, similar to last year when sophomore J’den Cox was seeking his first national title. Cox said he is hyped for his teammate.

“And I hope tomorrow that the stars align in his favor and he goes out there and does what he does best and he comes out a champion,” Cox said. “And I’m going to be here. I’m going to watch, I’m going to cheer him on. Just like he did for me. Just because I lose doesn’t mean the team aspect of this place goes out.”

It was an uneventful, but dominating match that sent Houdashelt to the finals. He struck blood first with a takedown and later escaped for a point. Add on another point for a minute of riding time and the match was just another day at the office for Houdashelt.

Houdashelt said his training and endurance made the difference.

Habat said Houdashelt was a worthy opponent and that he looked forward to Saturday’s match.

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