Wrestling grapples on unfamiliar mats

The program’s success makes scheduling non-conference opponents difficult.

The home-mat advantage for the Missouri wrestling team sits on the corner of Stadium Boulevard and Mick Deaver Memorial Drive.

The Tigers practice on the fourth floor of the Hearnes Center. Yet, for the past three weekends, the Tigers have had to leave their home and hit the road.

“(Traveling) is not fun,” coach Brian Smith said. “Believe me, we don’t like going on the road.”

At the end of January, this team had traveled 4,486 miles from Tennessee to Michigan to Oklahoma all in one month. All of the matches were on the road, but the Tigers are wrestling at home for the first time in 2014 on Feb. 7 against Buffalo. It will also be the first regular season dual in the Hearnes Center.

The last time the Tigers stayed in Columbia for a dual was on Dec. 6 in Jesse Auditorium. The volleyball team was occupying the Hearnes Center for the first rounds of the NCAA tournament. Essentially kicked out from its home, the team did the best it could with the new venue, but junior 149-pounder Drake Houdashelt said after the dual that it still felt like an away meet.

The other home event was the black and gold scrimmage that pitted wrestling alumni against the current team.

For freshman 197-pounder J’den Cox, wrestling out of the state is new since he spent four years wrestling for Hickman High School. Cox said he’s used to traveling to places like Lee’s Summit, Mo., and returning home the same day.

The all-over-the-map schedule is a result of the recent conference realignment and timing. Missouri moved to the Mid-American Conference in 2012 since the Southeastern Conference does not have wrestling. Typically, the Tigers have seven to eight matches at home. This season, they have four duals, all against of which teams from the MAC.

While the MAC takes care of four home duals, it’s up to Smith to fill the remaining slots. All of the nonconference duals were on the road this season because of timing.

“(Other teams) don’t want to schedule us,” Smith said. “If they are the Big 10, they have a lot of tough dual meets already. The last thing they want to do is schedule another top-10 team.”

Missouri is coming off its second consecutive conference championship and qualified ten wrestlers in the NCAA tournament last season.

Smith said it’s up to him to find schools in the MAC states like Ohio, New York and Illinois that will be open to start up a series. He said Missouri will have at least seven home duals next season.

Friday’s home dual against Buffalo is the annual Beauty and the Beast event where both wrestling and gymnastics compete on the same floor.

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