Wrestling looks to establish national presence

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.39.46 PMScreen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.39.46 PM

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.39.46 PM

By Jacob Seus, 23 sports

Sunday, November 9-

It’s been a long six months for Mizzou wrestling, but the Tigers are ready to get back to work as they begin their 2014-2015 campaign. Missouri wrestling has received great preseason recognition and come into the season as the No. 6 ranked team in the nation.

The Tigers have big shoes to fill after last year’s Middle Atlantic Conference title. In fact, the Mizzou wrestling team has won three straight MAC conference titles and has been hard at work to secure a fourth. As the No. 6 ranked team in the nation, Mizzou comes into the season ranked first overall in the MAC conference and look to be the championship favorites in 2015.

The next highest ranked team is the Iowa Hawkeyes at No. 17 in the nation. The Tigers have plenty of room to work with in the conference and few expect Mizzou to be challenged for the top position.

The Tigers have prominent players in each weight class. The MAC coaches in the 2014-15 preseason weight class rankings recognized nine individual grapplers from Mizzou wrestling. Every weight class besides one has a Tigers starter ranked nationally. Starting at 125 lbs is former MAC champion and All-American Alan Waters. After not finishing the 2012-2013 season as he wanted to, Water took last season off to rest.

At 133 lbs. sophomore Matt Manley will get the nod for the Tigers. With the way Manley capped off last season, he could not be denied a starting job. Manley finished sixth at lasts year’s MAC championship, earning him a wild card berth in the NCAA Tournament. There, he gained much needed postseason experience going 1-2. Manley goes into the season as the No. 14 ranked wrestler in the nation.

At 141 lbs. is another redshirt sophomore, Lavion Mayes. Mayes finished fourth at the MAC Championship and 2-2 at NCAA’s, including an upset of the No. 15 ranked wrestler, Lester out of Oklahoma. Mayes comes into the season as the No. 13 ranked wrestler in the country.

Senior Drake Houdashelt is entering the final season of his extremely successful career as a Tiger. Houdashelt is a three-time conference champion and two-time All-American. He is a few wins away reaching the 100-win mark and this season gives him the potential have the second-most victories ever at Mizzou. Houdashelt has a great chance to compete for an NCAA title in 2015.

The last of the starters will be sophomore J’den Cox at 197 lbs. Cox had one of best seasons in Mizzou history last year. He was the MAC and national champion in his weight class, MAC Wrestler of the Year and MAC Freshman of the Year. The sky is truly the limit for Cox who enters the season as Mizzou’s best chance to have another NCAA champion.

Head coach Brad Smith and his squad open up their season November 15 with a doubleheader against Truman State and Missouri Baptist at the Hearnes Center. The Tigers’ schedule only features one match in December, but it will be a big one as Mizzou takes on Kent State, South Dakota State University and Southern Illinois University.

The Tigers’ chance to four-peat as MAC champions could be jeopardized in January when the Hearnes Center hosts five dual matches against Carolina State and Michigan. Also in January, perennial NCAA powerhouse, Oklahoma State, makes its way to the Hearnes Center on January 23.

Over the years, Smith has established an incredibly strong program at Mizzou. With such experienced depth in every weight class, this could be the best Mizzou wrestling team the university has seen in some time. All of the elements are in place to keep the program moving forward. Fans can anticipate consistent top-ten finishes from these wrestlers night in and night out. Every member of this team should expect another MAC Championship and be aiming for a top-five finish at NCAA’s.

This team has the making to win it all, and like everyone, that is the ultimate goal for these Tigers. This will be an exciting winter for Mizzou wrestling with its limitless potential and hungry group of men preparing for a long postseason run.