The University of Missouri wrestling program has put together an impressive streak of 10 straight conference tournament championships. That run began in 2012 when the host Tigers won what they believed to be their final season as a Big 12 team. That success continued with nine consecutive Mid-America Conference championships.
The Tigers (11-4 overall and 8-2 in conference) are back in the Big 12 this season and will play Saturday and Sunday in the conference tournament in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Missouri enters the playoffs ranked ninth nationally by the National Wrestling Coaches Association and enters the weekend with nine of its 10 wrestlers ranked sixth or better.
Other nationally ranked Big 12 teams include No. 5 Iowa State, No. 13 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Northern Iowa, No. 24 Oklahoma and South Dakota State No. 25. Other schools in the tournament are North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, Wyoming, West Virginia, Air Force and Valley of Utah.
“It’s exciting to be back in the Big 12, and we’re fired up for the weekend,” Missouri coach Brian Smith said. “The crowd and the atmosphere will be incredible. … This is one of the premier wrestling conferences in the country, and we expect a great competition.
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The Big 12 Championships are a stepping stone to the season’s pinnacle, the NCAA Tournament, which runs March 17-19 in Detroit.
“This weekend is important, but it’s just another tournament on the road to the NCAA,” said Smith, whose team finished seventh at last year’s NCAA in St. Louis. “We have been working all year over the next few weeks and we are delighted with this opportunity. We want to win, but our goal is to have our best weekend of the NCAA season.
A total of 58 NCAA offers will be on the line in Tulsa. The Tigers are led by top seed Keegan O’Toole (17-0) at 165 and No. 2 Zach Elam (11-4) at heavyweight. Last year, as a true freshman, O’Toole took third place at the NCAA.
“Honestly, my preparation never changes,” O’Toole said. “Last year was a little different as a freshman guy, but at this stage it’s about constantly working to improve. I love competing and hopefully I can do my part to help this team. to win.
Other key Tigers wrestlers include No. 4 seeds Allan Hart (13-4) at 141, Josh Edmond (13-7) at 149 and Jarrett Jacques (15-10) at 157; No. 5 seeds Noah Surtin (17-5) at 125 and Rocky Elam (14-4) at 197; and No. 6 seeds Peyton Mocco (12-4) at 174 and Jeremiah Kent (15-6) at 184. The Tigers’ Connor Brown is unseeded at 133.
Rocky Elam had a solid run in the losers’ pool a year ago to take fifth at the NCAA.
Surtin, an Edwardsville High standout who competed in last year’s NCAA, won an Illinois State title as a high schooler and also placed second and fifth during his prep career .
“They’re a young band, but they’re a very talented band,” Smith said. “At this point our guys are bouncing off the walls ready to show what Tiger Style wrestling is all about.”
Smith continued, “At this point, rankings and seeds don’t mean anything. It’s about stepping on the mat and doing what you need to do to be successful.
Jacques, three times qualified for the NCAA, is delighted with the return to the Big 12.
“It’s our story, the foundation of Missouri’s wrestling program,” he said. “Obviously we know the end goal is Detroit, but this is an important step. It’s a chance for us to go to Tulsa and show people what Mizzou wrestling is all about.
Illini will compete in Nebraska
The country’s other power-fighting conference, the Big Ten, will hold its championships Saturday and Sunday in Lincoln, Neb. The latest poll has Penn State (17-0) at No. 1, defending NCAA champion Iowa (14-1) at No. 2 and Michigan (12-1) at No. 3.
Other Big Ten teams in the national rankings include Ohio State (6), Wisconsin (7), Nebraska (11), Rutgers (14), Michigan State (15), Purdue (16) and Minnesota (19).
Under first-year coach Mike Poeta, Illinois finished 3-7 in doubles this season. Illini’s roster includes three competitors with ties to the region in sixth seed Danny Braunagel (Althoff) at 165, twin brother and 12th seed Zac Braunagel (Althoff) at 184, and second DJ Shannon (CBC) at 174.
Other Big Ten members with local ties include Indiana junior heavyweight Jacob Bullock (Cahokia) and Iowa senior Jaydin Eierman, who is ranked second at 141. Eierman, of Columbia, Mo. , started at Missouri and finished fifth, fourth and third at the NCAA. . After the transfer, he was national vice-champion last year.
The Big Ten will award 88 automatic qualifying offers.
SIUE competing in the MAC Tournament
SIU Edwardsville fights this weekend in the Mid-America Conference Championships in Athens, Ohio.
Cougar wrestlers include Austin Macias (125), Aaron Schulist (133), Saul Irvin (141), Caleb Tyus of Civic Memorial (149), Max Kristoff of Althoff (157), Cardeionte Wilson (165), Kevin Gschwendter (174 ), Sergio Villalobos (184), Ryan Yarnell of Windsor (197) and Colton McKiernan (285).