Alright gents…it was a hell of a weekend for the sport of college wrestling, seeing only the fourth ever four-time champion crowned on the stage at the Scottrade Center. For our Mizzou Tigers, lots to be proud of and certainly other finishes which left us less than such. Start with the good…what did you love this past weekend?
You kind of have to start with Drake Houdashelt there don't you?
I don’t think you HAVE to. You can certainly talk a good deal about the effort and heart shown by some of the other seniors, Mikey England in particular (and Devin Mellon as well) who wrestled long into the weekend and hard at every step. But yes, Drake is not a bad launching point either.
There was a LOT to love. Let me list it all out.
1. Mikey England. Mikey Freaking England. That dude was picked to win maybe 1 match over the weekend and he just went out there and won 4 matches to make it to the blood round and gave every thing he had out there on the mats. I was following along each of his matches with as much excitement as the big 3. I just can't say enough how proud I am as a Mizzou fan with the way he wrestled and finished off his career as a Tiger.
2. Devon Mellon. Devon wrestled to seed. He was picked 11th and made it to the blood round as well. He didn't have the easiest SR. season with a rash of injuries and eligibility issues. I think he did put together his best wrestling of the season late tho. He wrestled Coon tough as heck in the Champ round, he stayed within himself on the consolation side and beat guys that I think he would have lost to last year or earlier in this season. He also finished out his career on an up tick and did us all proud.
3. Willie Miklus. Good lord is Big Willie fun to watch. This kid is as raw, explosive, and did I mention raw(?), as you might find today. He showed again that he can finish a match at any point and give up a late TD at any point. He came through a tough 184 pound bracket and managed to fight his way into the 7th place match where he came out on top. This kid is gonna be so much fun to watch over the next 3 years.
4. J'Den Cox. We knew going in that 197 was seriously tough from the Quarters on and is certainly turned out that way. J'Den lost to another outstanding underclassmen in the Semis in a close match. He faced the #2 seed in the consolation semis and dropped a close match and then came out to see old foe Hartmann of Duke in the 5th place match. He got fired the heck up when he heard the Duke coaches telling Hartmann that he had Cox right where he wanted him, to which Cox responded "You ain't go [removed]". Cox was gracious as ever in his post tournament interviews and said that he had fun, wrestled hard, and was proud of himself. I don't know that I could love a Mizzou athlete more than I already did J'Den before this tournament, but I absolutely do now. He is already on my MIzzou athletes Mt. Rushmore and may go down as my #1 favorite of all time before hes done in CoMo.
5. Drake Houdashelt. National Champion. Damn, that has a nice ring to it. Drake came into the NCAAs last year as the #1 seed and lost to eventual champ Tsirtsis in the semis. This year he wasn't about to let that happen again. He wrestled his butt off the whole weekend and stayed true to his aggressive nature in the finals. That turn in SV to get the defensive take down was a thing of beauty. Drake is going to go down as a top 5 wrestler all time at Mizzou with the following stats; 4X conference champ (first in school history), 4X NCAA Qualifier, 3X All American, National Champion. Awesome.
So BST saved Houda for the end instead of the lead.
I agree with nearly everything he put out there. I can't emphasize enough what a pleasant surprise England was last weekend. I had him pegged for 2-2 at best and he had a pretty good grasp on his blood round match before getting stuck. What a run by that guy and a really positive note to end his career.
Miklus also provided a big boost by stepping up to be one of the "other" all-americans that Mizzou needed to stay in the team race. He scored a third of the team's bonus points for the entire tournament via his two pins. Some day he could have a very Matt Pell like run in him and really propel Mizzou to a team title.
And of course the champ must be addressed. Such a clean run through the tournament, and the only one of the Big Three to major anybody. He went out and did exactly what he needed to do and it's so great to see him finally snatch that elusive title. His final takedown wasn't the prettiest one of his career, but 2 points is 2 points.
So let’s switch gears then to those who did not perform to the level which we either had them pegged and/or hoped they would. And before we go that way, I (at least) want to start by saying that Ohio State deserves a metric ton of credit for how their wrestlers attacked the tournament weekend. I consider myself very fortunate to now have seen THREE of the four wrestlers who have won four titles (Sanderson, Dake and now Stieber) and I very much appreciated how Stieber wrestled that match after Port had his leg issue. He remained in control, but certainly with an eye on the safety of his opponent (who was gutty as hell).
Anyway, back to the Tigers. I will certainly open this up to thoughts on each person, but I want each of you to touch on something which has stuck in my mind. J’Den Cox and the hearing loss. Do we think this has had any effect on him this season? I know when I have some ear problems (simply due to sickness or what-not) that my sense of balance feels like it is off. I cant get the thought out of my head that his aggressiveness did not end up getting toned down at points this year due to it. Thoughts?
I’m not sure if the hearing loss had much of an impact one way or the other for J’Den, but that’s mostly because I know so little about his actual condition. The only time I was really disappointed in his performance on the year was this past weekend and despite what BST said earlier I’d have to slide him into the disappointment column myself.
Let’s be clear though - when you’re the #1 seed it’s impossible to overachieve and very difficult to even live up to the expectation. However I was disappointed a bit in J’Den not so much for dropping two tough matches to two very good wrestlers but for not scoring like he was expected to all weekend. He just didn’t seem to really push the pedal much and it really cost him against Snyder and McIntosh. J’Den didn’t so much as major anybody in his bracket which was stacked at the top but fell off quickly after the top 6 wrestlers. I have to throw Alan Waters into this discussion a tiny bit as well as between the two of them they accounted for exactly 0 team bonus points. Zero team bonus points from 2/3 of your Big Three won’t get it done for the ultimate team prize and it really compounded their inability to make the finals in their respective weight classes.
I know it’s a bit nit-picky to come down on Cox and Waters like that, but my next area of disappointment is not nit-picky at all. Johnny Eblen had to be, far and away, the biggest disappointment on the weekend. When 0-2 would literally have improved the team score you know things went wrong. It must be pointed out that without Eblen’s flagrant misconduct (deserved or not) Mizzou finishes third as a team instead of fourth. Thank goodness it wasn’t the difference between first and second, I suppose. I don’t think Eblen was intentionally trying to be malicious in that match, but you absolutely cannot put yourself in the position for the ref to make that call.
I’m getting a little long so I’ll leave with just one last note. Overall I was a little disappointed with the lack of attacking/offensive wrestling from our guys. Maybe it’s perception but it looked to me like almost everybody went out there to burn the clock and hope they were ahead when the third period ended. Almost nobody went out and blew the doors off of anybody and it showed in that the team came up with only 12 team bonus points. 4 of those were due to Miklus’ pins and 2 more were a medical forfeit to Mayes in the 7th place match. 6 major decisions across 7 other guys, three of which are #1 seeds, is something that will have to improve the next time Mizzou comes into this thing with title hopes.
Well said Shaffer. I pretty much agree across the board. tOSU showed exactly what a team needs to do to win the title, and thats come out aggressive as heck early, tighten up a bit in the semis and finals and get those bonus points. We didn't do it and we didn't deserve a top 3 finish because of it.
I thought Mayes showed some good heart in his wrestle-back matches. Certainly a learning experience for him. Miklus as well, as both of them (along with J’Den) will need to become leaders of this team going into next season. As for Johnny Eblen, I really just feel terrible. You are down and facing elimination and you have to go all-out on the offensive. It looks like he just lost control (though exacerbated by the fact they went FLYING out of bounds) and that’s that. Deserving of a penalty in the match? Certainly. Deserving of what he got? Not even close in my book. But, for the team, a trophy is a trophy and good motivation for those coming back.
Speaking of coming back, we will certainly have more on the state of the program as time goes on. But for now, how would you close out the 2014-2015 season? What is the one word which comes to mind to explain this group and their accomplishments? And….is this the best Mizzou squad ever? (to bring back a discussion from previous posts and comment sections)
2014-2015 is I believe the best season in Mizzou Wrestling history. Undefeated in duals, 2nd in the Scuffle, 1st at Nat. Duals, Destroyed the MACs, 4th at the NCAAs. Thats a damn good season. In a few years if Mayes, Lavallee, Miklus & Synon all end up being AAs or title contenders, this may go down as the best squad in history as it was loaded with top end Sr. and underclassmen talent.
I am too verbose, but if I had to describe this squad in one word, it'd be "Strategery".
You won't catch any argument from me if you want to call this the best year ever. Winning at Carver-Hawkeye is a special thing and not something that happens often with something on the line. Even though things fell a little short in the end it shouldn't take too much away from the season.
One word I would put to this team would be 'focus'. They were just dialed in all year long.
Good way to finish up gents. We will have lots more to come on the team and where they go from here in the near future.