MAC to reality: Missouri clinches share of conference championship

The team wasn’t satisfied after what coach Brian Smith deemed a subpar second dual.

No. 24 Missouri (10-5, 7-0 Mid American Conference) defeated Northern Illinois (8-4, 3-2 MAC) and Cleveland State (7-3, 3-3 MAC) on Saturday by scores of 32-6 and 20-12 respectively to clinch at least a share of the MAC championship for the eighth straight year.

Coach Brian Smith lauded the energy that his wrestlers brought in their blowout win over NIU, but he left the second dual disappointed. Despite the win, Smith didn’t think that his team’s performance would hold up later in the season.

“We just had this lull in the second match,” Smith said. “You can’t have those letups, because when we get to tournament mode, it’s going to be important to win those second matches, and how we wrestle as we continue through our tournaments. So we gotta get back in the room and get some people correcting things.”

Tough losses in that dual included sophomore Cameron Valdiviez at the 125-pound weight class, who couldn’t protect a 10-4 lead and lost 12-10, and overtime losses for No. 25 Wyatt Koelling at 197 and heavyweight Jake Bohlken.

No. 12 Jarrett Jacques, who picked up his 20th and 21st wins of the year — both by simple decisions — wasn’t satisfied with his performance either.

“I guess I won, but I felt pretty flat,” Jacques said. “I don’t think I wrestled to the best of my ability, but I got the job done. I didn’t feel my best, but you’re not going to feel your best every day, so you’re going to have gut out some wins like that.”

Jacques picked up 20 victories for the second season in a row, and was one of two Tigers sophomores to do so (the other being No. 5 Brock Mauller, who won two major decisions on Saturday) in their first two seasons. He was not enthused by this achievement, instead focused on the process over the results.

“I’m not huge on just thinking about wins and losses, more so how I wrestle,” he said. “Twenty wins is 20 wins, I guess, but I’m more concerned about how I’m wrestling and what’s going to get it done in March.”

The Tigers came out firing against Northern Illinois, claiming pin fall victories in the first two bouts from lightweights Valdiviez and sophomore Allan Hart, and never looked back.

“That was insane,” Jacques said. “We came out and smacked them in the mouth a little bit. It definitely put a fire in our team and blew out the flames in theirs.”

“That makes it fun, because we’re going out with some energy and we’re putting people on their back, and that’s what our program was more like,” Smith said. “You’ve gotta go out there with confidence, knowing that when I get to my positions, I’m going to put him in danger and score.”

Senior Dylan Wisman added some more excitement later in the dual at 184 pounds, when he earned a buzzer-beating takedown to clinch a major decision.

Wisman’s dominant win came against sophomore Brit Wilson, who entered the match at 14-1 and was in the conference championship against Missouri’s Daniel Lewis last year. His performance drew unprompted praise from Smith.

“That kid’s a high-quality kid, and against two of the best kids in the conference it got to the point where he’s wanting to cut the guy and score takedowns, and that’s awesome,” said Smith. “It sends a message: ‘Hey, I’m here, I’m the senior, and I’m going to compete at the highest level.’”

Missouri claimed its 20th and 21st consecutive victories over MAC opponents, a streak dating back to 2017.

“We are defending our spot, and at the MAC conference every year we outdo ourselves, so we have big shoes to fill,” Mauller said.

“I think we got a target on our back,” Jacques said. “I don’t think we can really be complacent with where we’re at. We strive for excellence and being great, and I think we still have a lot of work to do before March comes around, but we’re on the right track.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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