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Mid season check: Wrestling - The Fighting Smiths

I thought we may need to take a few minutes to check on the other winter sports at Mizzou. First up and closest to my heart is the wrestling team. They are a top 10 team with big Dom Bradley ranked #1 at heavyweight and a few other individuals listed in the top 10 of their respective classes.

The NCAA tourny is only 2 months away, not much time left!
The NCAA tourny is only 2 months away, not much time left!
Andrew Carpenean-US PRESSWIRE

The fighting Smith's of Mizzou's wrestling program have had a solid if under the radar year so far. The biggest boost is without a doubt getting Dom Bradley back from his olympic red shirt year. I personally wondered if he may be tired or just mentally exhausted from getting so close to his olympic dream before ultimately falling short. Around Bradley, Mizzou returned a strong roster that put together a strong 2011-2012 season that included a Big 12 tournament championship but fizzled out badly in the NCAA tournament without a single All-American.

The team over all is 7-0-01 so far this year in duals and has finished 2nd and 3rd respectively at the 2 different national tournaments it has participated in. The biggest highlight would have to be the Southern Scuffle tournament that featured each of the top 6 teams in the country and what many described as the best regular season tournament ever assembled. Mizzou wrestled ok the first day and finished in fifth place as team over all, however they had a load of wrestle back opportunities that they did not waste. Clawing their way back up to the 3rd place looked possible but it would come down to the wire with Minnesota who had the #1 ranked and returning national champion heavyweight Tony nelson. Big Dom was able to grit out an overtime victory to secure himself the individual title and 3rd place over all for the team.

There are some quality duals coming for the team that should give locals a chance to see quality wrestling. Central Michigan comes to town on the 20th to face the Tigers in what should be the best in-conference match up we should see all year. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma also come to town on the 1st & 2nd of February. The Ok St. matchup is also the "Beauty and the Beast" dual that is immediately following gymnastics. February 17th starts the end of year tournament season off with the National Dual qualifying, March the 10th is our MAC tournament debut which is key for national qualifications and March 21st-23rd is the NCAA championships up north in Des Moines.

Now onto the individual wrestlers and their seasons to date:

125lbs -Jr. Alan Waters

Alan is just an absolute stud. He burst on to the scene as a freshman two years ago and broke a few of Ben Askrens almost silly seeming freshman records. The only knock on Waters has been his health, he was dinged at the beginning of last year and has not wrestled this year since mid December. He is currently however 16-0 and ranked 3rd in the country. Hopefully Waters is able to make a successful comeback from whatever is ailing him and give this team some solid points in the upcoming duals and tournaments. If healthy there is no reason why Waters shouldn't be an All American.

133lbs. - Sr. Nate McCormick

McCormick is about all you could ever hope for in a senior. He is steady, provides great team leadership and never drops a match that seems like he shouldn't. Currently sitting at 20-2 and ranked #8 in the country, McCormick is putting together an All American type campaign. His 2 losses have come to the #1 and #5 ranked wrestlers in his class so far and both were in the two major tournaments where McCormick fought back through wrestle backs and finished 3rd locking up big time team points. This should be McCormick s 3rd NCAA qualification upcoming and if he wrestles up to his potential, should be an All American year and I wouldn't be surprised if he sneaks into the to 4.

141lbs. - Sr. Nicholas Hucke & Fr. Cole Baumgartner

Hucke took over the 141lb duties about mid way through last year and wrestled ok. He came into his senior season as the incumbent but has not wrestled terribly well. Baumgartner has wrestled the most of the varsity 141lb'ers thus far and has been 12-6 in those contests. Not bad for a fairly unheralded freshman from Jeff City. This would probably be the weakest weight class the Tigers are going to field this year and does not show a whole lot of promise for the post season.

149lbs - So. Drake Houdashelt

Houdashelt shot out of a freaking canon last year in his red-shirt freshman campaign. Winning the 157lb Big XII title and qualifying for the NCAA tournament. This year he has been steady and improving at the lower weight class. He is 16-6 so far this year and ranked #18 in his class. 149lb's is just stacked with stud sophomores this year, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Drake make a move back up to 157 next year if it still as steep a climb to the top. I think he should make the NCAA's again this year and put up a fight for the AA round.

157lbs - Jr. Kyle Bradley

Bradley finished 2nd last year at the Big XII's to qualify for the NCAA's at 149 lbs. He bumped up to 157 this year and switched spots with Houdashelt. Bradley's 2012-13 campaign has almost mirrored Houdashelt's perfectly. Kyle has posted a 16-7 individual record and is currently ranked 20th at 157. He moved into the rankings this week based on a solid showing at the Southern Scuffle where he barely missed out on a 3rd place finish but won 4 straight matches in wrestle backs. Much like Houdashelt he should very likely qualify for the NCAA's again this year and could make a push for the AA's.

165lbs. - Jr. Zach Toal

Last year Toal won the 165lb. weight class at the Big XII's and qualified for his 2nd NCAA's. He is 16-8 so far this year and is ranked 11th overall in his class. He has been solid but has a real thorn in his side in #3 overall Tyler Caldwell from Ok St. Caldwell is also a Junior and has been very solid this season, but this is probably the deepest weight class in D-1 wrestling this year. Dake and Taylor at the top of the class have put together some impressive battles that even have our own Ben Askren salivating over the twittersphere about them. Toal has lost to Caldwell twice now first 0-7 then 1-3 in the semifinals at the Scuffle. The two will face each other again in just over a month in Columbia. Toal has what it takes to keep grinding and getting better and putting together a Max Askren'esque under the radar top 5 finish at the NCAA's this year. The first hurdle to clear however may just be from former conference mate Caldwell.

174lbs - Open

I was wrong earlier, 174lbs is easily the weakest part of the Tigers squad. They have a few guys that have been able to put together decent Open resume's but just cant quite put it all together. Cody Johnston appears to be the best bet going forward as a RS Freshman from Warrensburg, heres hoping.

184lbs - Sr. Mike Larson

Larson snagged the 184lb Big XII title last year and made it one win short of the AA round at the NCAA's. He has put together a solid 19-5 campaign this year and is currently ranked 10th in the weight class. Being one of 3 guys to make it one win short of the AA's last year and a senior, Larson should have a serious fire burning in his belly to make it back and claim that All American title this year. It will be his 3rd NCAA tournament appearance as well, so he should have no issues with butterflies. Its All American or bust for Larson and I think he should get there and pose some issues for the upper classmen heavy division on the way.

197lbs - Sr. Brent Haynes

Haynes is a 3 time NCAA tournament qualifier and placed 2nd at the Big XII's last year. He has posted a 20-5 record this year and is currently ranked 13th in his division. He placed 3rd at the Scuffle last week pinning #14 ranked Schiller of Minnesota for the victory. Haynes has the maturity and experience behind him to be an All American this year. Much like Larson its put up or shut up time in his final year as a Tiger. This should be his 4th trim the National Championships and he should put up a fight on his way to the AA round.

Heavyweight - Sr. Dom Bradley

What can we say about the big man? He was an extremely heralded recruit out of high school. He came in and challenged some guy named Mark Ellis right away as a true freshman, even besting the upper classman in an Open tournament in the heavyweight finals. Ellis of course went on to the win the NCAA title at heavyweight. Bradley's first year as the man at heavyweight for Mizzou was capped with a 3rd place finish at nationals. Last year he took off to chase his dream of an Olympic Gold. He fell just short, losing in the quarterfinals of the qualifying tournament, which is not too shabby at all for a college junior. This year hes back and cruising right along with out missing a beat. Bradley is a perfect 22-0 overall and ranked #1 at heavyweight. Dom has wins against the currently ranked #2, 3 and 5 wrestlers in the division. He also has an upcoming dual match up that has to be very important to him. Jarod Trice of Central Michigan is not only in our conference and ranked #8 overall at heavyweight, he's also the wrestler that knocked Dom out of the olympic qualifiers. Central Michigan comes to Columbia on the 20th of this month, and I personally am looking into making it to that dual for this match if none other.

There you have it, our 2012-2013 Missouri Tigers. We are pretty well half way through the season as this point. The team over all is ranked 6th at this point, but after what we saw at the Southern Scuffle, a top 3 nationals finish is not out of the realm of possibility at all. If you get a chance to make it out to a dual please do. Dom Bradley is a just unbelievable talent to behold and this could go down as perhaps the best overall team Mizzou has put together on the mats.