Missouri takes home MAC Championship

The Tigers secure qualifying spots in all 10 weight classes for this month’s National Championships.
Missouri sophomore wrestler J'den Cox takes on Ohio wrestler Phil Wellington Sunday, March 8, 2015, at the Mid-American Conference Championships hosted at the Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo.

With Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blaring through the Hearnes Center speakers as the confetti settled and the scent of firework residue still lingered, the Missouri wrestling team was the only competitor out of eight remaining on the mats, taking photos with family and talking to the media.

The Tigers took home their third consecutive Mid-American Conference Championship on Sunday, accumulating 139.5 points, with five individual grapplers taking home individual finals wins. Old Dominion finished second with 97.0 points, followed by Ohio with 85.5.

Mizzou also managed to qualify 10 wrestlers for the NCAA Championships, which are set for March 19. This is the first time in the program’s history that a team has been able to qualify all weight classes automatically.

Among the day’s winners were seniors No. 1 Alan Waters and No. 3 Drake Houdashelt.

Houdashelt defeated No. 9 Alexander Richardson of Old Dominion in a 5-2 decision. The typically quiet 149-pounder let out a celebratory yell and flexed at the crowd following his contest. With the win, Houdashelt becomes the first Missouri wrestler to pick up four consecutive individual conference championships.

Waters breezed to victory, taking down No. 6 Dylan Peters in the 125-pound class with an 11-4 decision. In addition to his win, he was awarded the 2015 MAC Wrestling Championships Most Outstanding Wrestler award during the post-dual ceremony.

“They’re seniors,” Missouri coach Brian Smith said of the duo. “They can kind of see that this journey could be over soon and it’s been fun. I mean, (the team) really, really cares about each other. These guys have been together since they were kids. It’s special, but they don’t want it to end because they’re having a good time –– they’re wrestling their butts off.”

In addition to the pair, sophomore Zach Synon, 2014 National Champion No. 1 sophomore J’den Cox and No. 16 senior Devin Mellon picked up individual first-place wins.

The unranked Synon was a backup at the beginning of the year and with a 28-11 record, almost needed the victory to automatically qualify for Nationals. Smith said he was the most excited during this match.

“He battled all the way through,” Smith said. “To take that takedown at the end and ride? Man, that was sweet. I was pumped.”

The attendance tally was 2,023, with most pulling for the host. Smith, who grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, said that looking up at the crowd reminded him of a day at Three Rivers Stadium, with the Tiger fans’ golden rally towels representing the Steelers’ Terrible Towels.

At heavyweight, Mellon met up with No. 9 Blaize Cabell, who has already beaten him twice this year. Following his 4-2 victory, the No. 2-seeded Mellon released a fierce roar. He said the win put his confidence at an all-time high.

“(The match) meant everything,” he said. “I know I needed a big win to win the MAC and have a lot of confidence going into Nationals, so it meant a lot to me and a lot to the fans.”

Along with their medals, the five championship Mizzou wrestlers picked up All-MAC First Team honors. Although it turned out in the end, it wasn’t easy for the Tigers.

After losing a match yesterday, 174-pound wrestler senior Mikey England, was sent to the consolation semifinals, where he suffered yet another loss at the hands of Ohio’s Harrison Hightower.

In the fifth place match, however, England pulled it out with a 4-1 decision over Central Michigan’s Jordan Wohlfert.

It still seemed bleak to him regardless, as only the top four of each weight class tend to qualify. However, England was sent to a qualifier match with Northern Illinois’ Shaun’Qae McMurty, which he managed to win 4-1.

Cox and the rest of the Tiger grapplers were in the tunnel watching the match and all erupted when England wrapped up the tournament.

“To see Mikey come out and get a spot was humongous,” he said. “Just getting all 10 guys was a humongous deal and we knew that coming in here –– we needed to get 10 guys. We got it done and we’re proud, but all of this shows that we’ve still got more work to do.”

Missouri has made history in a variety of different ways this season, adding “most points ever scored at a MAC Championship” to the list at the end of the day.

However, the team isn’t focused on this long list.

“We can’t focus on history because we’ve still got the future to look forward to,” Cox said. “It’s great and it feels good and it’s wonderful, but we still have work to do.”

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