MU wrestling set to face a fresh rival in Oklahoma State

Even with the rivalry that has developed between the programs in recent years, the Tigers are treating it like any other meet.
Designed by Corey Hadfield

For the first time all season, Missouri wrestling will face a higher-ranked opponent.

The team in question is the No. 2 Oklahoma State Cowboys, who come to town Saturday, Feb. 16 and bring with them a hype and anticipation one can expect from rivals that have developed into equals over the last decade.

The two teams have existed in separate conferences since Mizzou left the Big 12 in 2012, but coaches Brian Smith of MU and John Smith of OSU agreed to schedule their own meet and wrestle each other once a year after the move.

“When we left the Big 12, the first thing John Smith did when it was announced was [say] to me ‘we’re wrestling every year,’” MU’s Smith said. “It’s a great rivalry and you look at the last three or four years, it’s been down to the wire with the dual meets.”

Historically speaking, Missouri vs. Oklahoma State isn’t a long-standing rivalry at all. In the all-time series OSU leads 41-6-1, so until 2003, it was less of a rivalry and more so a beatdown. Since the Tigers got their second win ever over OSU in 2003 – the unofficial beginning of the rivalry – they’re 5-9-1 going into Saturday and just shy of .500 over the last five years, going 2-3 since 2013.

All three wrestlers who spoke at Wednesday’s media day acknowledged the significance of the dual and that the team has been hard at work in preparation for its toughest opponent of the season. However, they downplayed any recent history between the programs.

“It’s not really putting a lot of pressure on us,” redshirt junior Jaydin Eierman, who had a momentum-swinging pin in last year’s matchup, said. “It’s just going out there and doing what we love to do and it just makes it more exciting that it’s a top-five dual and we go out there and showcase what we’re all about and prove any doubters wrong that are in the country.”

The team’s streak of 35 consecutive dual match wins was acknowledged by the trio of wrestlers, but all seemed to agree it has little significance in relation to the rest of the season and Saturday’s contest.

“I don’t really think about that too much, like the team record,” redshirt senior Daniel Lewis said. “I just step out on the line and do what I have to do.”

The only person who did acknowledge the rivalry was one of the men instrumental in keeping it alive in 2012, coach Brian Smith.

“It’s kind of a rivalry that’s occurred from the old Big 12 to now,” he said. “We’ve kept it going, so when you have this – I think nine of their ten guys are ranked in the country and I think when the rankings come out, they’ll probably have all ten of their guys in the ranking and we’ll have probably all ten of our guys in the ranking, so it’s an unbelievable matchup for seeding.”

For Smith, the annual meet carries a more personal meaning than it does for his wrestlers. When Smith became Mizzou’s coach in 1998, he used Oklahoma State’s program as a benchmark, a destination he ultimately wanted to guide his team to.

“The early years, they used to show up with their backups and beat us like 44 to nothing, so those were the tough years and I remember saying that was the standard that we had to get to,” he said.

“You know, when you talk about Alabama winning five or six football titles or whatever, [Oklahoma State’s] trying to win their 35th national title,” Smith said. “So, you’re dealing with a really, really powerful tradition here, and they expect to win. They don’t like to lose to us, so the first time we beat them with that team, it was a shock.”

By now, Smith’s program has progressed to the point where it isn’t a shock if it takes down OSU, but the two perennial powerhouses’ annual meet has become one of the biggests tests of the year for both teams, with each adding to a fledgling rivalry that’s become one of college wrestling’s biggest, even if the wrestlers themselves treat it like any other match.

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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