As is customary this time of year, Beef and I get together and wax poetic about the Fighting Smiths, how they're looking individually and as a team going forward for this season. As Ray from Jurassic Park would say, "Hold on to your butts".
OK, so before we talk about the team as a whole and its prospects for the year, lets talk about our probably starters at each weight class.
First up at 125lbs is the returning (from a year off) MAC champion and All-American, Alan Waters. Waters took last year off to rest and heal up from everything I've heard. He didn't have the kind of finish to his '12-'13 campaign that he'd have liked and was a bit burnt out. Hopefully he's back and ready to go, as he is already ranked 3rd by Intermat after his win over #5 Joey Dance of VT in the NWCA classic last weekend. So, Beef, what do you think about Waters coming back and his chances on the season?
I think 125 could be one of the more entertaining classes this season across the country, and Waters is a big part of that. After taking the year off, there was some discussion whether he would move to 133 or stay at 125. National pundits must be thrilled to see him at 125, joining Sr. Jesse Delgado from Illinois and Jr. Nashon Garrett (who Waters replaced at the NWCA) from Cornell. Those three, along with a group of sophs make this class a little more experienced than normal (where it is not uncommon for a frosh to star at 125). Inside the MAC, one of those aforementioned Sophs is Dylan Peters from Northern Iowa (currently #6) looks like the main (and only ranked) competition for Waters, but very solid competition nonetheless. Much of the team goals at the national level are tied to how Waters does, and I certainly expect him to be in the mix for MAC and NCAA crowns. Anything less would be a little disappointing.
Moving to 133, a number of wrestlers started last season with their eyes on the starting slot. Eventually, now-Sophomore Matt Manley took the spot and did some good things. He upset #5 Ryan Mango during the year at the Southern Scuffle. And while he would finish 6th at the MAC Championships, a wildcard berth gave him from great NCAA experience, where he went 1-2. Now sitting at 14th in the country, what do you think the next step is for Mr. Manley?
Manley is interesting. Stud coming out of HS, redshirted his freshman year and then had a decent RS Frosh season. As you said getting that NCAA experience under his belt is huge. Intermat has him the highest ranked 133lber in the MAC, with 2 upperclassman just behind him. I think you have to hope for a top 3 MAC finish at the worst and for him to compete for a MAC title, with a possible AA being at the top end. This is a weight class with a ton of sophomores and juniors and practically half the big ten is ranked in the top 12, hopefully they beat up on each other all year long and drop a bit.
On to 141lbs we have another RS SO, Lavion Mayes. Like Manley, Mayes was also able to lock down his weight class last year and finish off with a 4th place finish at the MACs, a 2-2 record at the NCAA's, and an upset of #15 ranked Lester of Oklahoma. Mayes is currently ranked 13th in the country, where does he go this season?
Mayes’ path is certainly similar to Manley, though I would say he performed just a hair better last season than Manley. His weight class is senior-laden at the top, with only super-sophomore Zain Retherford of Penn State appearing in the top 5 as a non-senior. Mayes slides in right now at #13 in the nation, the #5 sophomore of the group, so he certainly has a bright future in front of him. Closer to home, he is very much third in the MAC, with juniors Chris Mecate (#6 nationally of ODU) and Zach Horan (#11 nationally of CMU) ahead of him. He is very much third because, last season, he wrestled those two a combined five times…losing each of the five. However, with the exception of a MAC 3rd-place match against Horan (where Mayes was pinned), he lost the other four matches by a combined total of 6 points, with two of those being OT losses (when he was taken down in Sudden Victory). 3rd in the MAC and another NCAA run wont be disappointing in the least for me from Mayes, but if he can break out against one of those two, he could have a shot at grabbing AA, or at least doing some good damage in the NCAA’s with more wins than losses.
On to 149, where senior Drake Houdashelt gets ready to lace ‘em up one more time for the Tigers. A three-time conference champion (1 Big XII and 2 MAC) and two-time All American (6th in 2013 and 5th in 2014), Houdashelt will join the 100-win club early in the season and actually has a great shot to finish 2nd all-time at Mizzou in wins (he wont catch Ben Askren). He will look to join Max Askren as a three-time All-American (only Ben got all four) and become the first ever four-time conference champ. So…if Drake wins a MAC and National title, can we call him the 2nd best wrestler at Mizzou ever?
Man oh man, I LOVE me some Drake Houdashelt. The dude is a grinder. He is everything you want to see in a High School or NCAA wrestler. Drake will get to the 100 wins club, should get another conference title and could compete for the NCAA title. If he does all those things, 4 time conference champ, 100+ wins, 3 AA's & a title, I think hes at least tied with Max Askren as the 2nd best Mizzou wrestler of all time (who has finished their career). However, if he is ONLY an AA again this year, I think hes still solidly a top 10 all time Mizzou wrestler. I'm seriously looking forward to the MAC's in CoMo this year to see this young man go out on top.
Side note, how many freaking Stieber's have their been at OSU? Seriously, is this how people felt seeing more than one Askren show up for Mizzou?
Next weight class is 157lbs and we have yet another sophomore, Joey Lavallee representing Mizzou here. Joey burst onto the scene and took 4th at the Williams/Daktronics open with the first 3 wins of his college career. Lavalee continued a stellar freshman campaign by finishing 4th at the MACs and barely missing out on the AA round at the NCAAs with a 3-2 record. He finished his freshman season with 30 wins, 7 by pin (leading the team). Lavallee starts his sophomore year ranked 13th in the country and 3rd in the MAC. He'll face some solid in-conference competition from #3 Miller of Kent State and #8 Smith of Central Michigan. Question to you Beef is, can this kid continue his ascent and finish top 3 in the MAC and make it to the AA round at the NCAAs?
Of the three sophs so far, I might be the most excited for Lavallee. He picked up for Kyle Bradley at 157 after the Southern Scuffle and scored his first ranked win over Alex Richardson of ODU right before the regular season ended. He really impressed in the MAC’s, with his third-place match pin helping us sneak out the team title. He had a decent draw in the NCAA’s in terms of his three wins, but his ability to get bonus points was certainly on display with a major and a tech fall. He follows Mayes in that he is #13 in his class (with Manley #14, so it tells you a bit about where this team is right now) nationally, but is the #3 sophomore (with one frosh also ahead of him). He is #3 in the MAC, and those two are solid wrestlers, so third place is not a bad result for Lavallee this season. At the NCAA’s, getting to the cusp of the AA rounds mean that you’d like to see him take that next step and finish in the picture. I think it is possible.
So we are half-way home, and as they do at dual meets, I am going to take a quick break and pose this question to you for halftime before you get into discussing 165 and the rest of the weights.
We have already covered 133, 141 and 157, all who have sophomores in solid, national positions. Nevermind where we are for this year (which we will get to), but how excited are you for the future of Mizzou wrestling?
I think this might be the best outlook we've had for a Mizzou team going forward, ever. We've had national champs in the past decade, we've had multiple AAs in the same year and top 5 finishes. What we have right now with 3 ranked sophomores that all have solid experience under their belts after solid freshman campaigns (not including a certain super-soph we'll talk about later) is one hell of a foundation to continue building upon. High Schoolers out there have to look at Mizzou as not only a place where you can win the MAC and have a shot in the NCAA's for an AA, maybe. But a program that will let you wrestle early on if you earn it, a program that will make you better and get you the best wrestling room practice you could hope for, and most importantly put you in a position for multiple years of AAs and shots at an NCAA title.
Anything else you'd like to add to my gushing above?
Rarely do I ever try to add, detract or in any way influence another man’s gushing.
But you are absolutely right. What Brian Smith has created here over a lot of years of hard work and effort is now a founded, national program. The beauty of the success in the past you talked about is that you can have a BEN ASKREN (and others) still be a pretty big part of this program. You can have Alex Clemsen come home (to the state of Missouri) from a great run as a young coach to take over for Sammie Henson. You can have Dom Bradley and Nick Marable (who are both making names for themselves in the world circuits) starting to get into coaching (at West Virginia with Henson) and obviously have the chance down the road to come back as well. All of these, in different ways, are tremendously foundational elements which will only serve to help the program moving forward. You want your peak years certainly for shots at top-5 finishes (and maybe more down the road), but now you can start to be a consistent top-15 and eventually top-10 annual finisher. That is very exciting, especially for where this program could have gone with the school’s move to the SEC.
Thats all for part I, tune in tomorrow for more!