Missouri wrestling takes fourth place at NCAA tournament

The 2014-15 season further established Missouri as a wrestling powerhouse.
Missouri Tigers senior Alan Waters wrestles Michigan's Conor Youtsey Saturday, March 21, 2015, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — One trophy instead of three. Five All-Americans instead of 10. Fourth place instead of first.

The Missouri wrestling program had high aspirations this season. Undefeated during the regular season, the team seemed invincible and primed to capture a team title. Yet, after three days of wrestling at the NCAA Division I Wrestling National Championships at Scottrade Center, Missouri began to look vulnerable.

After all the individual champions were determined and trophies were handed out, the Missouri Tigers finished in fourth place and took home a sixth individual title, thanks to senior Drake Houdashelt’s sudden victory 3-1 decision.

“If you asked (Houdashelt), he would say he wanted the team title,” coach Brian Smith said.

The Tigers stood on the stage after the final round to to receive their fourth-place trophy, the program’s second-ever NCAA trophy and its first since 2007.

After the trophy presentation, Smith stood by the stage and patted each wrestler on the back, congratulating them on a job well done. While the end result wasn’t exactly what the team envisioned, it was still an extraordinary outing at the national tournament for Missouri, especially after placing 14th last year.

“They’re really crushed about this weekend,” Smith said. “And I told them, ‘You guys have nothing to hang your heads low for.’ Every match we wrestled in this tournament, we competed hard. And they left it on the mat. We lost heartbreakers and sometimes, that’s the tournament. There’s a lot of ups and there’s a lot of downs, but we finished with an individual title.”

The Tigers have not finished top-five in the team race since 2007 when Ben Askren led them to third place.

Five All-Americans ties a program record. Yet, more importantly, all five All-Americans placed in seventh or better in their respective weight class. In fact, only one Mizzou wrestler left the tournament without winning a match.

The Ohio State Buckeyes dominated in the team competition, winning with 102 points and locking up the title before the individual champions were even crowned. Second-place Iowa had 84 points. Fourth-place Missouri had 67.5 points.

The Tigers had hoped all season to finish on top, but Smith said Friday night that he would settle for a team trophy.

The team contest was tight entering the final round of wrestling. The Tigers were six points behind third-place Edinboro. Houdashelt wrestled Edinboro’s David Habat to sudden victory. Off a quick evasive move, Houdashelt spun and took down Habat for two points and the victory.

Cornell had two wrestlers in the championship round and was two points behind Mizzou. With help from Isaiah Martinez of Illinois, the Tigers hung on to fourth place.

During Friday’s matches, the Tigers suffered a four-point deduction after senior Johnny Eblen headbutted Illinois' Zac Brunson. Eblen was disqualified for flagrant misconduct.

Without that deduction, the Tigers would've placed third, but sophomore J'den Cox said the team isn't holding a grudge.

"We’re a team," he said. "It’s a team thing. Yes, he made a mistake, but that’s fine. He’s still my brother and things happen. We wish he would have controlled himself a little bit better.”

Houdashelt said after his title match that he was focused on the individual dual and trusted that the team would take care of their matches. Early Saturday morning, four Tigers did their part in the team race.

Returning national champion Cox rebounded after a loss in the semifinals to finish in fifth place. After a narrow defeat in the semifinals, Cox lost to Penn State’s Morgan McIntosh by a 3-1 decision. He rebounded against Connor Hartman of Duke with a 4-2 decision. Cox told reporters he plans to rest after the tournament.

Sophomore Lavion Mayes and redshirt freshman Willie Miklus placed seventh after winning their Saturday morning matches. While Mayes won via forfeit, Miklus needed a last-second escape to pull ahead over Arizona State’s Blake Stauffer. Both wrestlers earned All-American honors for the first time in their careers.

Senior Alan Waters, who suffered an upset in the semifinals, helped the Tigers the most by rallying to win two matches on Saturday, including a 7-0 decision to cap off his career.

When Waters woke up this morning, he didn’t want to wrestle. It took a pep talk from Smith to get him on the mat.

Smith said he told Waters that “this is part of life right here. If you want to be a coach, you’re going to have to teach this. Learning to step up and fight adversity when you don’t want to do it.

“And he not only did it, but he goes out and gets two big wins for us and I know he felt a heck of a lot better,” Smith said.

Waters’ third-place finish was the highest of his career. All in all, the two-time All-American will go down as one of the more accomplished Mizzou wrestlers. Waters went undefeated during the regular season, and tallied 136 wins and a .907 winning percentage during his career.

Senior Mikey England, a transfer from Iowa State, finished the tournament 4-2. He was one win shy of All-American honors.

"I don’t think they fell short," Smith said of his seniors. "I look at it as they had a great few years. Look at what they have done for Missouri wrestling and where the program is at now. They have accomplished a lot."

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