Missouri wrestling secures only three wins in conference-title loss to UNI

Missouri wrestler J’den Cox: “I’m cool with wins and losses, and those things are going to happen, but I didn’t feel any fight [today] and that hurt for me as a person, as a senior, as a teammate.”
Junior J’den Cox celebrates after defeating Cornell’s Jeramy Sweany 24-9 on Jan. 10, 2016. Cox participated in his final regular season match on Saturday against UNI. Maneater File Photo

It was supposed to be a fairy-tale ending for No. 1 J’den Cox’s Senior Day at Hearnes Center: His team would earn yet another regular season Mid-American Conference title against the No. 19 University of Northern Iowa Panthers, and he would wrestle his final MAC meet in style.

But the Panthers had other ideas.

Despite Cox’s 17-1 technical fall victory in the final match of the meet, the Tigers were throttled by the Panthers on Sunday afternoon, losing 25-10.

Head coach Brian Smith said the loss was a difficult one to swallow.

“You get your ass whooped and it’s never fun, especially when you have a good program and expect to put trophies in the trophy case,” Smith said. “They were a team that had more purpose today. There’s no doubt that Northern Iowa came to win this dual.”

The Panthers won all but three of the matches on Sunday, including two upsets to start the dual, and jumped out to a commanding 9-0 lead. Smith said he was especially displeased with a lack of aggressiveness his wrestlers showed, especially in the first three matches.

“We didn’t score a takedown until the fourth match,” Smith said. “That’s insane; you can’t win matches that way. It’s tough.”

Following a loss by John Erneste, who competed at 133 pounds, No. 9 Jaydin Eierman picked up two takedowns in the first round of his match against Jake Hodges in the 141-pound division. Eierman kept the pressure on and very nearly secured a fall before picking up the 8-4 victory, putting the Tigers on the board.

Eierman said that his goal had been to get the Tigers moving in the right direction to mount a comeback.

“I was hoping [my victory] would kick-start something,” he said. “I obviously wanted to get the tide rolling and I tried my hardest to do so. I just needed to go out there and do my job.”

Eierman’s victory proved to be all for naught.

No. 2 redshirt senior Lavion Mayes followed Eierman’s victory with a rare poor performance, losing the final regular season MAC match of his career to No. 8 Max Thomsen, 7-2.

Redshirt junior Joey Lavallee battled through multiple injuries to pick up an 8-3 win over his opponent, but repeated words from Missouri coaches toward the referees cost the Tigers an overall team point, giving UNI a 12-5 lead.

UNI did not look back after the Lavallee match. Tigers redshirt sophomore Daniel Lewis, redshirt freshman Dylan Wisman, and redshirt senior Matt Lemanowicz were all defeated by their respective opponents, making Cox’s final regular season conference match meaningless as to which team would win the dual.

Cox, who had to compose himself after the meet before speaking to the media, expressed disappointment and sadness with his team’s overall effort.

“I’m cool with wins and losses, and those things are going to happen, but I didn’t feel any fight [today], and that hurt for me as a person, as a senior, as a teammate,” Cox said. “When the guys look back and see that I said this, they can tell me I was wrong, but they’re not going to change my mind on that.”

Eierman said he was frustrated that the team couldn’t find a way to win in Cox’s final conference dual.

“I feel for him,” Eierman said. “He’s like my brother, [so losing] hurts my heart.”

Coach Smith said he will do his best to get his team ready for Southern Illinois on Wednesday and other approaching postseason matches.

“We’ll see what guys show up [Wednesday] and I hope there’s more energy,” Smith said. “I hope I can coach them to wrestle with more energy and passion. That’s how this program has succeeded: wrestling with some emotions.”

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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