Undefeated wrestling looks to continue streak

Freshmen have sparked team’s success.

The trip to Mount Pleasant, Mich., wasn’t exactly smooth after delays pushed the travel time to over 16 hours. Yet, the trip paid off after the seventh-ranked Missouri wrestling team left with a one-point victory over Central Michigan on Jan. 19.

The Tigers remain undefeated in dual competition thanks to a win at CMU and a 40-0 shutout of SUI-Edwardsville on Jan. 11. The CMU win also kept the Tigers in contention for a regular season Mid-American Conference championship.

The victory over Central Michigan avenged a last season’s loss at home. The Chippewas won the conference 11 times in the past 12 years. Freshman 197-pounder J’den Cox made the difference in this season’s contest with win by major decision that vaulted the Tigers ahead by 11 points.

The Tigers walked away as victors but the dual was in jeopardy before it even begun. Travel complications led to over 16 hours of travel thanks to delays. The team arrived to the hotel at 1 a.m. on the day they were set to wrestle. The luggage took even longer with the coaches having to pick it up later. Coach Brian Smith said he thought his team would be sluggish. Instead, the team opened with three wins.

Sixth-ranked Cox was one of those wins, but he said he would not like to repeat such an experience.

“The flight trip was terrible,” he said. “It was a trip with a lot of adversity. But we did what we had to do. It may not have been the prettiest thing anyone ever saw but sometimes you just have to dig deep and get the job done.”

Smith said he prefers driving.

Cox is one of three freshmen that have started this season. These first-year grapplers are a part of one of the top recruiting classes in the country and are leading the team this season. Against Central Michigan, Smith pulled the redshirt off freshman 157-pounder Joey Lavallee who made his first collegiate start for the Tigers. Lavallee lost to the Chippewas’ Lucas Smith 4-0. While it wasn’t a storybook beginning, Smith said Lavallee will get better as his confidence grows.

“That’s the guy we are going with,” Smith said. “He is pretty darn tough. He is talented enough and has the right mindset.”

Lavellee will get a chance to get his first win this weekend against Northern Iowa when the Tigers head to Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Jan. 24.

The No. 5 Panthers will face the Tigers after upsetting No. 4 Oklahoma. Friday’s match will affect the championship race in the MAC with both teams undefeated in conference action. Smith said it is the team’s goal to win a regular season championship as well as the conference tournament.

Smith said it should be a tight dual and will come down to a couple of matches.

“(The Panthers) are looking forward toward this dual, I know that, and so are we,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to it."

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