Wrestling wins second conference championship

Eight of 10 wrestlers qualified for the NCAA national tournament.

A year ago, the Missouri wrestling had no control over its fate.

In the final heavyweight match of the 2012 Big 12 Tournament Championship, Iowa State’s Matt Gibson faced off against Oklahoma State’s Austin Marsden. If Gibson won, the Tigers would win the championship. But if Marsden were victorious, the Cowboys would win the title. Missouri was helpless while watching the outcome. But luck was on Missouri's side, thanks to Gibson winning the match by an 8-3 decision. The Tigers walked out of the Big 12 conference with its tournament championship draped over the team’s shoulder.

This year, in the team's first Mid-American Conference tournament, the Tigers would not need to fret about the team title. They also would have a heavyweight in the finals.

The No. 4 Tigers cruised to their second conference championship, snapping Central Michigan's 11-year streak. CMU finished in second place, 48 points behind the Tigers. CMU also won the regular season title, something the Tigers could not contend for due to their affiliate membership status.

Senior heavyweight Dom Bradley dominated in his weight class on Sunday, ending the day atop the podium with a smile. Sunday was also his birthday.

"It was a great birthday present," coach Brian Smith said. "It was a special day for a great senior."

Bradley reached the 100-win milestone in the semifinals. He then faced a familiar rival in CMU's Jarod Trice. Bradley trained for the Olympics with Trice, who then beat him in the trials. The two met earlier in the season, a duel Bradley won.

At last year's Big 12 tournament, coach Brian Smith cast his team in the role as David from the story of David and Goliath. This year's team was the favorite to win and Goliath of the MAC. The Tigers had six top seeds going into the tournament, an underdog no more.

"I'm very pleased with the program and everyone that was a part in it," Smith said.

In addition to Bradley, the Tigers also took home individual titles at 125, 133 and 149 pounds. Two wrestlers lost in the final match and three finished in third place. All 10 Tigers advanced to the semi-finals.

"The great thing is the character of the team," Smith said.

Senior 133-pounder Nathan McCormick finally won an individual title in his third conference championships. McCormick allowed one point in his three duels and pinned his opponent in the second bout.

"He came back and looked stronger than ever," Smith said. "We are excited. He is a great kid. I'm happy for him."

While McCormick may be new to the top of the podium, junior 125-pounder Alan Waters and redshirt sophomore 149-pounder Drake Houdashelt found themselves in familiar territory. For the second consecutive year, both wrestlers won their weight classes. Neither allowed a point in the final match and Waters' individual title capped off his first undefeated season.

"(Houdashelt) is a scary guy right now at the NCAA (tournament)," Smith said. "He is wrestling with so much confidence."

The Tigers established themselves as a force in MAC, but their season is not over. Smith has said all year long that the goal for this season was the NCAA national wrestling championships.

"We want to accomplish better things," Smith said.

Last season, they won the conference but did not do as well as they hoped in the NCAAs, Smith said.

So far, eight Tigers have qualified for the national tournament. Senior 141-pounder Nicholas Hucke and junior 165-pounder Zach Toal could still make it in to the tournament via the wild card, which will be announced by the NCAA later this week.

The wrestling team returned on Monday to begin work for the NCAA tournament, which begins March 21 in Des Moines, Iowa.

"We have more work to be done," Smith said. "They have two weeks from now until the NCAAs."

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