Nov. 5, 2011
The Missouri wrestling program is just a little over a week away from kicking off the 2011-12 campaign at home against Purdue. After a disappointing finish at NCAA’s last year, the team is regrouped and refocused after a strong summer and fall and are looking towards getting back on that podium in March. Outsiders are expecting a strong year out of the Tiger squad, as Mizzou opens the season ranked No. 9 according to the NWCA. Today we’ll take a look at who we can expect to see starting at each weight class going into the season.
Sophomore Alan Waters returns as Missouri’s top 125 pounder after an outstanding campaign as a true freshman. Waters finished the year with a 39-7 record, leading the team in victories, and went 20-3 in duals while earning a trip to the NCAA’s. He’s Mizzou’s most highly ranked wrestler going into the season, ranking as high as No. 5 according to the individual polls, and head coach Brian Smith thinks he’s primed to take the next step towards an NCAA title.
“He’s been through the fire, he’s been through the full season,” said Smith. “He never had a redshirt season, he got thrown right into it, so he’s going to be more prepared just being a year older. He’s grown through the weight room, he’s grown mentally in terms of keeping his composure, and he’s going to be a much better wrestler. He was a great wrestler last year, but we really think he’s going to be in the hunt to be in the NCAA finals.”
As with any true freshman, it’s expected that they will be more reserved and to themselves than some of the older guys. Waters was no different, but he’s expressed a desire to step in as more of a leader for this program, and the coaching staff has taken notice.
“Alan is the type of kid that is the quiet leader, but he stands out more because his actions speak loudly,” Smith stated. “He’s one of the hardest training guys on our team. He’s here early, he stays late, and those examples carry over.”
For the third straight season, junior Nathan McCormick will get the nod at 133 pounds. The Leawood, Kan., native is coming off his first NCAA Championships appearance last season and finished the year with a 22-16 record. He’s a natural leader on the team, and he’s earned respect nationally for what he’s capable of accomplishing, ranking as high as 11th in the preseason rankings.
“This is going to be a big breakout year for Nathan,” proclaimed Smith. “When he wrestles the way he can, the best way he can, and sticks to that process, Nathan’s going to be really good. He’s ranked up there now, he has confidence now, this is his fourth year in the program so he’s been through a lot of years with battling and been in some tough matches. He’s a kid that’s ready to make that big jump, and we’re expecting him to be an All-American this year.”
Much like his brothers Chris and Tyler, who came through this program before him, Nathan fits in as a natural leader. He’s intelligent, he’s vocal and he leads by example in the classroom, in the weight room and on the mat.
“He’s in his fourth year and when you get into your fourth and fifth year of college wrestling, there’s a minimal amount of people up top and there’s a lot of younger guys. He lives his life right. He lives the wrestling room right; academically, socially, he does things the right way. He’s always a good example,” said Smith.
For the first time in several years, the Tigers will feature someone new at 141 pounds. Gone is Todd Schavrien, who capped off a successful Mizzou career with an outstanding showing as a senior, winning the Big 12 title and finishing sixth at NCAA’s. Now, another senior fills in for him, as Brandon Wiest, who owns a career record of 26-26, takes over the reins going into the season.
“He’s grown up a lot this past year. This is the year there’s a little urgency because he knows this is it for him. He’s made the weight cut down, he looks great. He wants to be in the lineup, he has goals to do something at NCAA’s, and we’ve seen it.”
Wiest brings an aggressive, explosive style to the mat who can use his power to get to his go-to maneuvers. He’s a guy that Smith says can score on his own attacks and off of his opponents attacks. Still, to get to the level that he wants to get to, Smith says he needs to improve his mat game both on top and on bottom.
“On the mat right now, and he’s working on it, he’s got to get off the bottom and he’s got to ride people for a longer time. He’s got to get better on the mat to reach that level of All-American. Right now he’s really good on his feet, but he has to get better at getting off the bottom and breaking people down when he’s on top and eventually get to turns.”
Another one of Missouri’s seven returning NCAA qualifiers, sophomore Kyle Bradley returns to the Tiger lineup for his second season as the starter at 149 pounds. Despite posting a 15-16 record last year, Bradley wrestled over 10 matches against ranked opponents and was able to advance to the NCAA’s, where he went 1-2, in just his first season. Smith is expecting Bradley to take a huge jump from where he was last season due to the experience he got as a redshirt freshman.
“I think the biggest jump wrestlers make in their career is after their first year starting to their second year starting because during their first year, they’ve never been to any of these events. A lot of these events we go to, whether it’s a Midlands or a National Duals and you hate to say it, but they’re awestruck. Some of them have to learn how to adapt to that, and that’s Kyle. He struggled some with his weight cutting, he struggled some just with his confidence, and he’s worked on a lot of that.”
The national rankings realize the potential that Bradley has, as he finds himself ranked No. 13 going into the season by both Intermat and D1CW.net. This season, Bradley knows what to expect from both a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint, and he’ll be able to use the experience gained from those tough matches against ranked opponents this season.
“He’s going to see the same type of schedule, but he’s a year older and I know he’s improved with his technique, and now he has the confidence to stick with his technique. He’s matured. I’m expecting big things from Kyle, I just see it. When he sticks with the process, he’s exciting to watch, he’s going to win a lot of matches this year and he’s going to be in the hunt to All-American,” Smith stated.
One of Missouri’s two redshirt freshmen who earned starting spots in the lineup going into the season is Drake Houdashelt at 157 pounds. Highly recruited out of high school, Houdashelt enjoyed a successful redshirt campaign last year, going 23-5 in open competition with three tournament titles. Houdashelt brings an intense, non-stop style to the mat that Smith says they are molding into a successful style of wrestling.
“He doesn’t really think about what’s going on, he just goes out and wrestles and enjoys it,” says Smith. “He steps on the mat and it’s going to be 100 miles per hour. We’re taking that and molding it into a style where he can use that aggressiveness and non-stop wrestling to be successful. His style is what we like to see in all our wrestlers. He’s going to go out and attack, he’s going to stick with the process, and he’s going to win with that. He’s going to be a fun one for fans.”
Despite entering the season as the starter, Houdashelt still has junior Nick Gregoris, last year’s starter, breathing down his neck. Gregoris stepped in at 157 pounds in the middle of last season and put together a solid second half, finishing the year with four dual wins and a 17-12 record, just barely missing the cut for NCAA’s. With Gregoris right on his tail, there’s going to be tough competition in the wrestling room at 157 pounds all season long.
“They’re both All-American caliber wrestlers. They’re going to battle it out. Houdashelt beat him by a point at Black and Gold and Gregoris is a nationally-ranked wrestler. We’ll see what happens when we get to the middle of the season and have to make a decision, but right now Drake has proven to us over the last three or four weeks and he’s beating everyone in the room.”
Sophomore Zach Toal will be Missouri’s starter at 165 pounds for the second straight season, looking to build on his first NCAA appearance which came last year as a redshirt freshman. Toal enjoyed a successful year with a 21-14 record in a stacked weight class, but both Smith and Toal feel he lost some matches he shouldn’t. Smith has already seen growth in Toal’s maturity from last season.
“He had a great season last year, but it wasn’t what he wanted. He lost some matches to immaturity. You talk about weight cutting, training the right way, unfortunately it is part of the process. They talk about young NFL quarterbacks, there’s a process, they’ve got to learn and adjust to the game, and it’s the same with college wrestling. You’ve got to prepare to improve.”
The main thing that Toal has focused on this summer is his knowledge on how he has to improve his game as the year goes on. As Smith says, where you are in October and November is not where you want to be in March. Toal took that to heart this summer and is preparing himself to improve as the year goes on.
“You want to be further ahead of that from watching film, taking your techniques and getting better, and that’s what I think Zach has really done well since this summer,” Smith stated. “He’s taking the things he’s been working on since summer and applying them to competition. This year I think he’s going to score some majors, get some pins, and that’s a sign of maturity.”
The most experienced wrestler on the squad will start at 174 pounds for the third straight season. Dorian Henderson closes out his collegiate wrestling career on a mission to get on that podium at the NCAA Championships in March. He’s qualified for each of the last two NCAA’s, posting a record of 5-4 in those matches, but a refocused and determined Henderson, much like Todd Schavrien last year, understands what he needs to do to become an All-American this year.
“This is it,” Smith said. “There’s that sense of urgency that ‘this might be my last day.’ It always seems to happen with seniors in any program, in any sport. I see that in Dorian this year. He’s believing, he’s buying in. When he makes the mistakes he comes to me and says ‘I did this,’ and he’s correcting the mistakes before I have to.”
Every single time Henderson is on the mat, he’s the quickest and most athletic wrestler in the match. Last year, Henderson improved greatly on his defense from the year before. This year, however, the No. 7 ranked 174-pounder in the country needs to use that to his advantage on the offensive side of his game early on in matches.
“Nobody can simulate Dorian’s speed in the practice room, said Smith. “Nobody’s as fast as him. Opponents have to adapt to that speed, and it may take a minute or two, he needs to score right away. That’s what he’s starting to do, he’s getting after it right away.”
Junior Mike Larson, in his second year with the Missouri program, resumes his role as the starter at 184 pounds. In his first year with the Tigers, Larson qualified for NCAA’s and posted a 21-15 record, but he struggled near the end of the year, going a combined 0-4 at the Big 12 and NCAA Championships and losing seven of his last eight matches, fighting through a sprained knee just to be able to qualify for NCAA’s for the second straight year. This year, Smith says, he’s matured and has grown in confidence, and his physical approach to the sport is a huge benefit for him this year.
“I think maturity-wise, and in terms of confidence-growth, I’ve seen the most out of Mike Larson,” said Smith. “He’s a guy who wants to physically go out there and beat people up, he is one of the most physical people we have. He wants to dominate, he wants to put you on your back, and he’s going out and trying to do that now every day in the practice room.”
Larson has focused that aggressiveness and physicality to his approach on the mat. Qualifying for NCAA’s with two different programs, Larson has seen nearly every wrestler that the 184 pound weight class has to offer. Smith states that his ability to score points offensively and off his defense gives him a huge edge over anyone that steps on the mat with him.
“He’s going to score points, he’s going to fight shots off and score off of defense. He’s living the aggressive style that we teach in the room, so I don’t think it matters who steps in front of him. He’s so confident right now that he’s going to have good results.”
For junior Brent Haynes, his 2010-11 wrestling season looked more than fine on paper. He posted a record of 29-11, finished fourth at the Midlands, took third at Big 12’s and qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year. However, for Haynes, it was a tough up-and-down season for the sophomore. He was forced to sit out the first half of the season, and struggled on the mat, especially on top, which was known to be his strength.
“Technically, he was making mistakes,” said Smith. “He started off slow, had a really up and down season and just couldn’t get it together. It never really seemed like he was ever 100% mentally or physically. This year I’ve seen a big improvement in him. He’s grown as a leader in the program. He had setbacks last year and nothing ever seemed to go right for him. There was a lot of adversity.”
This year, things are looking Haynes’ way. Smith sees an improved, more mature version of the redshirt freshman who made the All-American round during the 2010 NCAA Championships. He’s learned to be more patient on the mat, and he’s taken his focus to the classroom as well.
“This year, he’s not letting anything bother him. His academics are on track, he’s looked the best he’s wrestled since he’s been at Mizzou. He’s realized now that he can score takedowns, he can get out from the bottom, and if he’s on top and the turn isn’t there, he can grind it out and get the riding time and let the guy on bottom make the mistake.”
Heavyweight was supposed to be where Missouri’s lone returning All-American from last season was, with Dom Bradley returning for his senior year. However, Bradley has taken an Olympic redshirt for the 2011-12 campaign as he pursues a spot on Team USA. While it’s tough not having a potential National Champion in the lineup, Bradley is still in the wrestling room, training with his fellow heavyweights.
“Well not having a kid can win the National Title hurts us point-wise, but having him in the practice room and helping and still having him out there and competing and winning helps with our heavyweights,” stated Smith. “The positive is that it’s like having another coach in the room. Dom knows the sport; he fits the role of a future coach. He works with guys, he wants to make himself better and make them better.”
To start the season, another redshirt freshman will step in as a starter, with Devin Mellon taking over the top heavyweight spot. He started slow as a redshirt last season wrestling in open competitions, going 2-4 to start the season. However, Mellon finished the year by winning 12 of his last 13 matches and claimed two open titles, with his only loss coming to teammate Jake Glore. Mellon’s put in the work in the weight room, adding 15 pounds of muscle from where he was last year. He’s battled with Bradley in the wrestling room and the team is excited about what he can bring.
“Devin was taking Dom down last year and Dom would come up to me and say ‘man, this freshman is going to be pretty good,’” said Smith. “Devin has a lot of confidence in his leg attacks. He’s developed the high single, has the high double and the high crotch, he’s got a lot of leg attacks. He reminds me of a Mark Ellis, where he was young and shooting a lot last year, now he’s starting to control the matches better and be more patient with his leg attacks. He’s going to be exciting.”
Missouri opens the season with Purdue, who is receiving votes in the NWCA preseason poll, on Sunday, Nov. 13 at 1 p.m. They’ll face six teams ranked in the top-25 of the preseason rankings in Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Stanford, Kent State and Iowa State. Tournament-wise, the Tigers will wrestle at the Southern Scuffle on Jan. 1-2, at the Virginia Duals on Jan. 13-14, and at the National Duals on Feb. 11. The National Duals have changed this season compared to what in years prior. This time around, four regional sites will play host to six Division I teams at each site, with each team wrestling dual meets until a winner is determined. From there, the four winners of each regional will wrestle the following weekend in the Final Four to determine the first ever dual champion. Mizzou will also be the host for the 2012 Big 12 Championships at the Hearnes Center and the 2012 NCAA Championships in St. Louis.
Another format change this year is the way Big 12 season is laid out. This year, with just four teams, each team will wrestle each other twice during the regular season for a total of six duals against Big 12 competition. For the first time ever, the Big 12 will award a conference title to both the regular season dual champion and the tournament champion.
“We are young, but there’s no time but now, and that’s what this team has to see,” said Smith. “It’s about how much we can develop from now until March 17 at NCAA’s. This team can accomplish pretty much anything they want to, and right now they have goals to win the Big 12’s and be on the podium as a top-four team at NCAA’s. They have high goals and have set high standards for the program like we always do, but this team has that talent and the experience to do it.
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