KENT, Ohio -- For the third time in as many years, the Tigers are conference champions. Mizzou posted 118.5 team points en route to the 2014 Mid-American Conference title, their second title since joining the MAC as an affiliate member last year. The squad placed all 10 grapplers in the top six, and crowned two individual champions in Drake Houdashelt and J'den Cox. Seven Tigers booked their trips to the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City throughout the tournament.
"I'm really proud of the way this team kept fighting," said Head Coach Brian Smith following the Championships. "To have five freshman in the lineup and to keep competing at a high level really shows our maturity as a program. I'm shocked, but I shouldn't be. We believe in this team. They showed everyone why today."
After a couple of tough losses early in the placement rounds for first, third and fifth, Houdashelt turned the tide with an overtime win against Alex Richardson (ODU) in the championship bout. The victory clinched his third individual title since entering the Tigers starting lineup in 2012. His takedown with 16 seconds left in sudden victory gave the Tigers some life.
With Northern Iowa holding a comfortable lead in team points, Mizzou needed a lot of help. They decided to create their own, winning placement matches at 157, 174 and 184 with bonus points, closing the gap on their new MAC-rivals.
True freshman Joey Lavallee followed up Houdashelt's title with a pin over Tristan Warner (ODU) at 4:13. Then, after a Zach Toal decision over Shaun'Qae McMurtry (NIU) in a rematch from Saturday, Mikey England pinned two-seed Caleb Marsh from Kent State, a guy he fell to just a couple of weeks ago 2-0. Suddenly, the Tigers were within striking distance.
"I honestly thought we were out of the team race after the first few weight classes, said Smith. "We started to focus on getting guys to qualify for NCAAs, and we really thought it was over. But they never stopped battling."
Down two team points to UNI, Cody Johnston took the mat against Ryan Garringer of Ohio in the 184-pound fifth place match. On the adjacent mat, UNI had All-American Ryan Loder wrestling in the 184-pound championship. A win by decision and a Loder loss would tie the scores up, however a win in bonus points would make things interesting. Johnston, who was notified Wednesday that he would replace the injured Johnny Eblen, would proceed to tech fall Garringer in 5:21, 18-2. And then, Loder lost to ODU's Jack Dechow in sudden victory. Mizzou had taken a 115.5 - 114.0 lead over UNI, their first lead of the tournament.
J'den Cox's major decision in the title match over Phil Wellington (Ohio) closed the door on the rest of the nine-team field. Cox dominated Wellington in a 10-1 bout to avenge his lone MAC loss from back in December. His major gave Mizzou an extra team point to seal it, giving the Tigers their second-consecutive MAC title. Cox went a perfect 3-0 on the weekend winning by a technical fall and two major decisions. The conference named Mizzou's true freshman the tournament's `Most Outstanding Wrestler' following his performance.
Junior Devin Mellon would finish second at heavyweight after falling to Ohio's Jeremy Johnson. Johnson ranks No. 11 in the nation at 285 pounds.
All 10 Mizzou starters placed in the top-six in their respective brackets. Seven grapplers are headed to the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma City later this month following their MAC finishes. The other three still have a shot to get a wild card bid, which will be announced later this week by the NCAA.
Last year at the Mid-American Conference tournament, the Missouri Wrestling program dominated the eight-team field on their way to being crowned MAC Champions in their first year as an affiliate member of the conference. The Tigers dethroned Central Michigan, who had been MAC Champions for 11-straight seasons. Mizzou shattered the previously held team score high at the Championships, posting 136.0 points while crowning four individual champions.
1. Missouri 118.5
2. Northern Iowa 116
3. Old Dominion 97?
4. Ohio 94.5
5. Central Michigan 85.5
6. Kent State 67
7. Eastern Michigan 57.5
8. Northern Illinois 50
9. Buffalo 12.5