MU wrestlers young and old prepare for conference tournament

Daniel Lewis and Jaydin Eierman aren’t overthinking things going into the MAC Championships and neither are the freshmen.

MU senior and starting 174-pounder Daniel Lewis sat in in the Missouri wrestling room, fielding questions from reporters on a variety of topics; the Mid-America Conference’s recently announced expansion; former MU wrestler Ben Askren’s first fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championships the weekend before. He handled all questions in the casual, relaxed way one would expect from a senior. One question, however seemed to catch him off-guard: the one acknowledging that his final MAC tournament was March 8 and 9 and that his time as a wrestler at MU was winding down.

“I know my career is coming to an end and it’s bittersweet,” Lewis said. “I see a lot of sweet right now, but I know once March is over with, that bitter part’s gonna hit, when I’m not going to get to show out for a home crowd and my home team, but I’m looking forward to it right now, starting a new chapter in my life.”

With Lewis’s career winding down, Missouri is led by youth, boasting four freshmen in its starting lineup: 125 Dack Punke, 149 Brock Mauller, 157 Jarrett Jacques and heavyweight Zach Elam. When Lewis leaves, he and fellow seniors John Erneste and Nick Nasenbeny will give way to a new generation of wrestlers, one that has grown similarly composed off the mat and dominant on it.

Coach Brian Smith said he isn’t worried about how his young team will handle the pressure of this year’s tournament. The team has had plenty of hard-fought matches against ranked opponents, and the freshmen know how to deal with pressure-packed situations.

“They’ve been at the big stage,” Smith said. “You think of Zach Elam. In the fall, he went out to overseas and took the silver for the freestyle junior world championships. And Dack Punke, he’s been in junior national finals and won them. All four of them, even though they’re freshmen, they’re not anymore.”

“They’re not freshmen anymore” is something Smith has repeated throughout the year. The freshmen have performed on big stages for much of their lives. From Elam’s international triumphs to Mauller and Jacques combined six high school state championships, public exposure against top competition is nothing new for them. None of the four spoke during Tuesday’s media time, but Mauller hinted at their collective professionalism in the week leading up to their match against Oklahoma State.

“I just gotta go do what I do,” he said, discussing the regular season’s most anticipated match. “It’s just another team, another dual. We’re undefeated on the season so I don’t think about it in any other way. I just go through my week as I would for any other dual.”

Three weeks later, redshirt junior 141 Jaydin Eierman gave a nearly identical answer regarding his preparation as he goes into his third MAC Tournament.

“It’s just the same thing we do, week-in and week-out,” he said. “We do our business, have fun, go out there and compete, look to get pins. That’s always the motto, but I love what I’m doing and I love wrestling, and every time I get the opportunity I’m ready to go.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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