No. 24 Tigers focus on positives in tough loss to No. 5 Arizona State

Dylan Wisman nearly pulled off an upset over a No. 1 wrestler.

No. 24 Missouri (10-7, 7-0 Mid-American Conference) couldn’t overcome an early deficit to No. 5 Arizona State (12-1, 3-0 Pac-12), losing each of its first three matches and falling 21-13 to the Sun Devils.

The Tigers’ No. 23 Wyatt Koelling upset No. 11 Kordell Norfleet at 197 pounds, and No. 22 Allan Hart electrified the Hearnes Center crowd with a major decision at 133, but it wasn’t enough. Coach Brian Smith's group dropped three matches by major decision and they even fell victim to an upset of their own when No. 16 Jarrett Jacques lost the final bout of the day.

“There were some good battles, and I saw some good things, even in losses,” Smith said.

No match was more emblematic of that statement than redshirt senior Dylan Wisman’s 14-10 loss to the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 184 pounds, Zahid Valencia. While many wrestlers will only look to fend off attacks when they face a top-ranked opponent, Wisman took the opposite approach.

His aggressive gameplan nearly earned him the upset of the wrestlings season, and it did earn him a standing ovation from both his teammates and a crowd that included a plethora of Missouri wrestling alumni.

“That’s what we ask of the kids, to go out there and get after it, compete at a high level,” Smith said. “You’re gonna wrestle some high-level people, and find out if you can wrestle with no fear. He definitely did.”

Wisman’s fight energized the Tigers, including Koelling, who defeated Norfleet 3-1 immediately afterward.

“I really felt that,” Koelling said. “The crowd was really rowdy, and Wisman kinda gave us that boost to go out there and wrestle tough. You see that from your teammate, and it lifts you up and makes you want to do the same thing.”

Koelling’s bout was a low-scoring one in which Norfleet didn’t seem to try many attacks against the junior. The one time he took a shot, Koelling sprawled and spun behind him, locking his hands around Norfleet’s waist and slamming him to the mat for two. That takedown was the difference in the match.

“I knew that he had a really strong double; he’s a really explosive kid,” Koelling said. “Just making sure I kept circling to his trail leg and staying on his head. I knew I had a better gas tank than him, so getting on his head and getting him really tired was really important to us.”

Three matches later, Hart produced the other highlight of Missouri’s night. He gave up a takedown early but followed it with a flurry of moves that produced 10 points – two for takedown and eight for near-fall – in about 20 seconds.

“In my head, it was like ‘it’s time to get some points back,’” Hart said. “I think I got a slide-by first, then he stood right up – boom – cradle for four, stood back up again, cradle, then I had a 10-point lead and from there I knew I’d be good.”

Hart’s style is to wrestle like his hair is on fire, which makes sense for the redhead. He stands higher than his coaches would like in his stance, which can and does lead to takedowns for his opponents, but he may be Missouri’s most aggressive and energetic wrestler when he shoots and goes for back points.

“He’s on a roll now where he’s very confident in all situations,” Smith said. “Some of the situations he gets in, I wish he wouldn’t. But I’d much rather have a kid wrestle like that, with the confidence that ‘you can get to my leg, but I’m not worried about it’ than a guy that’s not confident and not doing anything.”

In between Koelling and Hart’s wins, the Tigers lost two in a row. No. 6 Tanner Hall, Arizona State’s heavyweight, picked up his 100th collegiate victory over Missouri’s Jake Bohlken, and then 125-pounder Cameron Valdiviez dropped a major to another top-10 wrestler, No. 7 Brandon Courtney.

In the end, the Sun Devils were too talented to beat without the help of bonus points from No. 4 Brock Mauller and Jacques, which Missouri didn’t get. Mauller’s patented double-leg shot was largely defended well by senior Josh Maruca, leading to a win but only by decision, and Jacques was defeated 10-7 by sophomore Jacori Teemer.

The key moment in Jacques’ match was a reversal that he gave up at the end of the second period, which awarded a massive two points to Teemer in a very close bout. Smith lamented the reversal and Jacques loss but acknowledged that it could be a valuable learning experience for the young, uber-talented grappler.

“There’s always things you can take away from wins and losses, but it’s finishing the second period, and you gotta finish takedowns,” Smith said. “He had opportunities a couple times where he was in deep and just didn’t finish. Kid’s a good kid, but he’s gotta finish takedowns to win big matches.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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