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Reviewin' & Previewin' - Wrestling

The Musings trudges through another summer week (and changes names for the summer time) and brings us to another program high in the national rankings.  July is my least favorite month of the entire year, and the only positive thing I have to say about it at this juncture is I am glad it is almost half over.  We will get to some Random Thoughts in a bit, but let's get immediately to the matter at hand, which is going to be an extensive look at the Mizzou Tiger wrestling program.

The 2008-2009 wrestling squad, like gymnastics from the week before, saw a great number of personal and team achievements.  First and foremost, it saw the crowning of the second NCAA Champion ever in junior Heavyweight Mark Ellis.  The Tigers placed half of their squad as All-Americans (top 8 national).  It also saw a 7th place overall finish, one of the best in school history.  However, as our gaze turns toward 2009-2010, it will see a number of key seniors departing the ranks.  How good has recruiting been since the program has become a perennial top-10 program?  Will it be good enough to fill in the possibly large holes in the lineup?  Before we take a look ahead, let us cue the soft music and fairy dust as we take a look back...

But wait!  Don't know much about wrestling you say?  Well, let's cure that problem first.  Take a look at the Wrestling Primer which I wrote back in November.  You will only need to read the first half, though the second half does provide some predictions on the season we are about to review, so you are welcome to hold my feet to the fire if you care to.  Now, back to the fairy dust...

The 2008-2009 Season

Final National Ranking: 7th
Final Conference Ranking: 3rd
Final Record: 18-4 (most dual wins in program history)
Big XII Champions: 2 (Marcus Hoehn at 141, Nick Marable at 165)
NCAA Participants: 8 (133, 141, 157, 165, 174, 184, 197 and HWY)
NCAA All-American Honors: 5 (Michael Chandler (5th) at 157, Nick Marable (7th) at 165, Raymond Jordan (3rd) at 174, Max Askren (5th) at 197 and Mark Ellis (NCAA CHAMPION) at HWY

Seniors Lost: 6 (out of 30)
Starters Lost: 4 (out of 10)
2009 Roster Breakdown by Year: 3 seniors, 6 juniors, 15 sophomores, 4 freshmen

I am guessing the easiest way to go about doing this is to just look at each of the weight classes and circle back from there.  Let's start with the lightweights.  Any rankings are quoted from (I used to use intermat, but their year-end rankings are just the top 8 and in order of finish at the NCAA's, so not enough help.  However, their site is newly expanded and will be a nice resource once the season gets going.  For instance, here are there recruiting rankings for the coming season.  A macro look shows a lot of Big XII schools in the top 15.  A micro look shows a good number of MO kids going to other schools...)

Going back to 2007-2008, Tony Pescaglia was showing some tremendous promise as a true freshman for the Tigers at a weight where they had not had much success in recent years (since Austin Devoe made the NCAA's as a senior in 2005-2006)  However, Pescaglia suffered a severe knee injury mid-way through the season, ending it.  He took the entire year of 2008-2009 to rehab, leaving RS Frosh Troy Dolan to hold down the fort.  Dolan was OK at times, but outclassed at others, finishing the season with a 15-23 record.  If both are returning (and I only say "if" because there is a good deal of turnover and transferring on NCAA wrestling squads and I am working off of an old roster), then I expect Pescaglia (now RS junior, but I suppose he might get a sixth year eventually since he RS'ed as a freshman then lost a season to injury last year) to be healthy and ready to start contributing again.  If the Tigers can start getting some quality out of 125, it would greatly help their goal of a conference and national title.  If not Pescaglia, I imagine Dolan is still available, as well as incoming frosh Brad Wisdom, a 2009 MO state champion at 125.  I expect a healthy Pescaglia to do well in a down 125 class in the Big XII (only two returning ranked in the top 20 out of five) and be around the top 20 all season.

The Tigers will have a number of options this season at 133, mostly because Todd Schavrien (now junior) was hurt for stretches of the season.  However, he did get it back together in time for the end of the season, which saw him take a surprise run to third in the Big XII Championships, which earned him an automatic bid to the NCAA's.  Once there, Schavrien lost his first match to eventual national champion #1 Franklin Gomez of Michigan State.  He did collect a win before being eliminated by #12 Grey of Cornell, finishing his season at an unspectacular 15-13.  In his absence, Luke Cherep (now junior) and Taylor Crane (now sophomore and not to be confused with football LB Tyler Crane) saw some action and were nothing to write home about.  If Schavrien can last the season healthy, there is no reason to believe he will not be able to repeat his performance from last season and be in and out of the top 20 for most of the season.  This is another weight class in the Big XII with some space for growth, with only two wrestlers ranked in the top 20 at the end of last season.

What a bonus the Tigers received from departing senior Marcus Hoehn.  All he did was pretty much come out of nowhere to win the Big XII Championships, move all the way up the rankings into the top 10 and finish with a 30-win season.  The only slight disappointment for Hoehn had to be his 1-2 exit from the NCAA's after falling to two wrestlers ranked lower than he.  But Tiger fans will always remember his OT win against Nick Gallick of Iowa State in the Big XII's, and perhaps his pretty damn funny videos.

Where does this leave the Tigers for 2009-2010?  I personally believe they will be in good hands if they are planning on sending RS Frosh Nick Hucke to the mat.  Hucke was a multi-time state champion from the state of Wisconsin, wrestling for the same coach who produced the Askren brothers.  I actually happened to see Hucke wrestle his final high school match on some obscure cable sports channel, and he was dominant in his victory.  Hucke is a beast at this weight, both with good scrambling abilities and good power.  The conference could be there for the taking as well, with only one wrestler returning from the top-10.  Mizzou will have some other options at this weight, including RS Frosh Cody Farinella, or perhaps true frosh Kyle Bradley In the end though, I expect this to be Hucke's spot.  Now, I am not saying I expect Hucke to defend this class title for Mizzou at the Big XII's, but I think Tiger fans are going to be excited for the next (hopefully) four years with his output.

Another weight class, another senior departing.  This time, Andrew Sherry has completed his eligibility with the Tigers after a season which saw him finish 13-15.  Sherry had a coulpe of big wins, but was never able to really replace the shoes of former 149'er Josh Wagner.  In fact, it was this class and 125 which were the only two classes Mizzou was not represented in at the NCAA's.

So, coming into this season, it is likely a case of addition by subtraction.  However, the question of who that addition will be is a curious one.  The roster only shows Daniel Hewitt (a RS Soph from St. Charles, MO) listed at 149.  I suppose Hucke or Farinella are possibilities here depending on off-season maturation.  Also a possibilty could be incoming frosh Kellen Bounous, who recently just won his third Missouri State title, this time at 145 pounds.  He is expected to wrestle at either 149 or 157, but the opportunity might exist for him to step right in.  As far as the conference goes, the strength of the Big XII must certainly be elsewhere, as they will only return one wrestler to the top 20.  Given what the Tigers got from this weight last year, they can only expect to get more in 2009-2010.

A third straight weight class with a departing senior, though Michael Chandler will be missed perhaps the most of the previous two.  Chandler earned his first All-American honor this past season, a 5th place finish after winning his last collegiate match for his 100th career win.  Chandler was a four-time NCAA participant for the Tigers (three times by virtue of his finish at the Big XII's and he earned a wild card his freshman season).  He placed second twice at the Big XII's, including this past season.  Chandler is known as a tremendous worker, and he will certainly be missed in the room

However, I believe all is not lost for the Tigers.  Soon to be sophomore Patrick Wright saw a good amount of time last season at both 157 and 165, and impressed at both.  With 165 still closed for another year, I see Wright stepping right in for the Tigers.  There are a number of other options if Wright has grown out of this weight, with future junior Brad McCarter, along with soon to be sophomores Todd Porter, Jacob Guerrant and Nick Gregoris.  Gregoris comes to the Tigers from North Carolina and I believe is seen as the primary competition (though Todd Porter went to the same high school as Chandler and reminds Coach Smith of a "young Michael Chandler").  However, I still feel the future is with Wright.  The conference will be a tough one, as the NCAA Champ returns in the form of NU's Jordan Burroughs, as well as the three others landing inside the top 18.

I will admit that I felt it was a pretty maddening season for future senior Nick Marable at this weight.  The preseason #1 wrestler entered 2008-2009 off of a 3rd place finish at the previous NCAA's where some felt he was jobbed out of a spot in the finals.  But Marable would struggle at times last season, as his style does not have him sticking or tech'ing a lot of wrestlers.  The master of the 3-1 win, Marable took some early losses and fell down the rankings a bit.  He recovered in time to win his second Big XII Championship, defeating two ranked wrestlers to do so.  He got to the NCAA's and immediately lost his first match to an unranked opponent.  However, he became one of only four wrestlers (out of 80 possible) who would lose his first match and wrestle all the way back to All-American status.  This season, Marable will once again enter the season ranked highly (likely in the top 5), and he will have to contend with two other Big XII wrestlers IN THE TOP 10!  Marable will look to become only the second Mizzou wrestler all time to win three Big XII Championships and should certainly be a favorite to at least All-American once again for the Tigers.

This is the last weight class with potential question marks coming into the season.  Last year, departing senior Raymond Jordan moved down from his previous class of 184 to really take it to the nation.  Jordan completed his career with a 3rd place finish at the NCAA's while also getting a chance to avenge his Big XII Championship loss in the process.  Jordan had his best season ever, wracking up a team-high 35 wins against only 4 losses.  He closes his career with 123 wins, two All-American honors and a Big XII Championship to his name.

Now, who follows him?  Leaving as well is Joey Garrity, so there is not much for depth here.  Highly acclaimed Ohio wrestling product Zach Toal is a three-time state champion, but only competed at 160 and is likely seen as the heir apparent to Marable.  However, the Tigers do have RS Frosh Brent Haynes, who was one of the top wrestlers in the nation for one of the top programs in the nation (Oak Park, MO).  He ranked second in the nation at the weight, and should be ready to hit the mat.  If not, then beyond POTENTIALLY being Andrew Wood (should be a RS Soph or junior), I dont really know who will try to fill the void.  The conference takes a break, as three highly ranked seniors are graduating, leaving only one wrestler returning to the top-20.  If Haynes hits the ground running, he could start a nice streak of NCAA appearances.

Once Jordan moved down from 184, a void was created behind him.  I was excited to see it filled by now RS sophomore Dorian Henderson, who is still pretty new to wrestling as a whole.  Henderson flirted in and out of the top 20 at times during the season, and was able to earn a wild card berth into the NCAA's after finishing 5th at the Big XII's.  Henderson lost a couple of decisions once in St. Louis and ended his season with a 20-15 record.  This weight class is not too strong, and the top of it from the Big XII is graduating, leaving only two behind ranked in the second half of the top 20.  The door will be open for Henderson to come through it and pass up some folks to get back to the NCAA's and start working on a better placing.

Mizzou does not have a lot in the way of seniors wrestling this coming season, but here is one of them.  Max Askren will look to put a bow on an already VERY successful Mizzou career.  This past season, Askren earned his second All-American honor and lost the Big XII Championships for the first time after winning his previous two.  He compiled a 30-6 record, giving him 84 wins and an almost shoe-in for the 100 win club this coming season.  He took big wins and is always capable of winning against anyone he steps out against, including both Varner of ISU and Brester of NU.  The only thing working against Askren is the fact that I expect 80 percent of the national top FIVE to be from the Big XII, including the big boys just mentioned.  Askren will have his work cut out for him in his quest to tie his brother for most Big XII Championships, but it would be quite surprising not to see him All-American for the third time and help lead this team.

It really does not get more confusing in wrestling than Mizzou's HWY division.  To start the season, man-child Dom Bradley was completing a red-shirt season and would be hitting the mat to compete for the spot with returning All-American junior Mark Ellis.  The two met at the Black and Gold meet to start the season, with Bradley coming out on top after a number of OT's.  They split time during the season, as both compiled impressive records, combining to finish an amazing 47-6 over all the tournaments and duals wrestled.  Bradley would knock off then #1 David Zabriskie of ISU in the Midlands Tournament, which Ellis would win.  When it came down to it, Ellis took second place at the Big XII's (where Bradley did not wrestle, and behind Zabriskie) and moved on to the NCAA's.  Ellis would get through to the finals to take on Dudziak of Duke, who had upset Zabriskie in the semis.  Ellis took the win and became the second champion in program history.

But then the off-season started.  Ellis started his by going out for the football team, and leaving his last year of wrestling eligibility in question (as to whether or not he will return).  In the meantime, Bradley has dominated the summer tournaments like he did the year before, winning the FILA Junior title and ascending as high as 4th nationally in the US Freestyle rankings (behind graduated wrestlers).  And he will only be a RS sophomore.

So what does 2009-2010 have to offer?  You have to expect that Ellis will be back to defend his title.  He should start the season in the top two or three nationally (with three others from the Big XII appearing in the top 10-15).  As for Bradley, he never got ranked at any point last season, but knocked off many ranked opponents during the season. If for whatever reason Ellis does not return, I expect Bradley to be right there in the top 10-15 range, and perhaps higher once the season completes.

2009-2010 Projected Lineup

125 - (RS Junior) Tony Pescaglia

133 - (Junior) Todd Schavrien 

141 - (RS Frosh) Nick Hucke

149 - (Frosh) Kellen Bounous

157 - (RS Soph) Patrick Wright

165 - (Senior) Nick Marable

174 - (RS Frosh) Brent Haynes

184 - (RS Soph) Dorian Henderson

197 - (Senior) Max Askren

HWY - (Senior) Mark Ellis

WOW...that is a really pretty young team when you line it up like that.  Only three seniors departing, with one (Ellis) to be replaced pretty seemlessly.  Even more returning in 2011-2012 (especially if Pescaglia gets his medical sixth season).  Can Mizzou improve upon their 7th place finish at the NCAA's?  Probably not, as I really only see three solid predictions at All-Americans at this point in Marable, Askren and Ellis.  I think potential is there for a healthy and returned-to-form Pescaglia, and we will certainly send others to the NCAA's like Schavrien, Henderson and probably another one or two.  But with Bradley replacing Ellis in 2010-2011, Toal likely stepping in for Marable and everyone else coming back, there wont be many holes to fill going into next season and we could see some special stuff down the road.

Random Thoughts:

  • The Boy already mentioned this yesterday, but sad stuff for the world of boxing with the passing of Arturo Gatti.  Few I can remember seeing ever displayed the heart and determination Gatti did, especially after breaking his hand during the 3rd Gatti/Ward fight, only to let it go numb and use it to beat and defeat Ward in the tie-breaking bout.
  • I may just have to watch the Home Run Derby tonight on mute, as I just do not know if I can stand to listen to the auditory stylings provided by the World Wide Leader
  • I have started to watch "Dexter" and am through the first season.  Pretty good stuff, and thankfully all of it is currently on Video on Demand in these parts
  • Worst sports day of the year coming up, being Wednesday of this week.