By Darren Hellwege, KBIA Sports Director
Mizzou wrapped up its regular season for wrestling with a couple of high scoring matches from the team’s smallest competitors, getting extra team points at 125 and 133 pounds on the way to a 23-11 win over Iowa State on Senior Day at the Hearnes Center before a rowdy crowd of 1,512 Sunday afternoon. The victory puts Mizzou back on the winning side of the ledger after two tough losses against Big 12 foes in Oklahoma last weekend, and is the last preparation before the Big 12 championships in Ames, Iowa start on March 5.
The match started at the 149 pound weight class. After Mizzou took an early lead on decisions from Kyle Bradley and Nick Gregoris, the score tightened at 165. That showdown featured two nationally-ranked wrestlers, Zach Toal of Missouri and Andrew Sorenson of ISU. Toal, No. 8, jumped ahead with a first period takedown but No. 9 Sorenson got a takedown in the final moments and combined with riding time pulled away to win 7-3 tying the team score at six apiece.
“I didn’t like the way Toal wrestled,” said Tiger coach Brian Smith. “You can’t wrestle a period, you gotta wrestle a whole match and he’s got to wrestle better than that. But, he’s a freshman, he’s going to respond and wrestle hard at the Big 12s.”
Iowa State then jumped ahead on a technical fall by No. 1 ranked and undefeated Jon Reader at 174. Mizzou’s Dorian Henderson gave Reader a game battle, but Reader was too skilled, quick and strong and ended up ahead 16-0 when the match was called.
At 184, an extremely close match was won by the Tigers as Mike Larson held off an unexpectedly strong challenge from Cole Shafer and won 4-3 to give MU a 9-8 lead at intermission. After ISU’s Jerome Ward won 8-3 over Brent Haynes at 197 in a match closer than the score indicated, the Tigers third-ranked heavyweight Dom Bradley got a late takedown to top Kyle Slifka 4-0 to put the Tigers back on top in the team score 12-11.
The lightest weights are the not the strong suit for Iowa State, so the Tigers went into 125 and 133 hoping to lock in the win with extra team points. And both ninth-ranked Alan Waters and sophomore Nathan McCormick did his part. Waters at 125 scored seven points in the first minute of the match en route to defeating freshman Brandon Jones for a major decision 18-8. McCormick followed with an equally dominant performance in beating Ben Cash 10-2, giving Mizzou the victory by putting the team score at 20-11.
“They wrestled very aggressive, Alan’s been wrestling that way all year,” remarked Smith. “The kid (Jones) tried to slow the match down and Alan wouldn’t let him, you gotta take it to him and score early and get him to open up and makes the kid wrestle. McCormick did a good job scoring and getting some riding time, that’s a big way for him to go into conference.”
With all suspense removed from the team score at that point, Senior Todd Schavrien took to the Hearnes Center mat for the final time with nothing but pride on the line. That didn’t prevent the crowd from getting a final thrill as Schavrien got a takedown in the final seconds to grab a 3-1 victory, proudly pointing to the block-lettered “MISSOURI” across his singlet’s chest as a last salute from the senior to his teammates and school.
“That was a big win, that was for the two seed (in conference). The thing I like was Todd stayed focused and didn’t make mistakes,” said Smith.
It was important for the Tigers to get back on the winning side of things following a tough week for the program. Last week the Tigers lost twice on the weekend in Oklahoma, being blown out by perennial power Oklahoma State in Stillwater 28-6, then wrestling far better but coming up short against the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman 18-12.
“Oklahoma State, we should have just stayed on the bus. We didn’t show up to wrestle. They took the fight to us at every position and in every minute, and we just didn’t fight back, and you’re gonna get your ass handed to you in Gallagher Hall if you do that, and we did” said Smith. “The next day, against Oklahoma, it was a war, it was a battle. I’m not happy with a loss, but we showed fight. You can coach kids that will fight, and I knew if we wrestled today like we did against Oklahoma, we’d get a win. And that was important, because this is the last duel, the last duel of the season, and with a young team like this, it’s confidence going into Big 12 (championships).”
Perhaps the frustration with the team’s inconsistent effort was best shown when coach Smith closed the gym and kicked his team out of practice Monday.
“We challenged the team and threw them out of the practice room. And they responded,” said Smith. “You try to cheat this sport, it’s going to get you, it’ll show up. You’ll be out there on the mat by yourself.”
Schavrien said the coach’s actions left him “lost.”
“Honestly, I left that day lost, I didn’t know what kind of feelings to feel. I just went home and I was lost, just so lost,” said Schavrien. “I gotta get my workouts, I got a big match this week. He walked in and we were sitting in the bleachers, and he said ‘If you guys don’t want to show up and wrestle, I don’t know why I’m here and not with my family’ and it kind of flipped the script, you start thinking less about yourself and more about what coach Smith is giving up. You start thinking about what he’s given up, you reflect on where he’s taken this program from where it was to where it is now, and it’s sad that he puts his heart and soul into it, and has to spend time away from his family just to see us lose like that, it’s almost disrespectful to him.”
Schavrien added he was gained encouragement and some perspective on the situation after a conversation with close friend and former Mizzou All-American Mark Ellis.
Schavrien’s leadership and wisdom is expected of seniors, and will be missed on future teams. The Tigers recognized Schavrien and the team’s two other seniors prior to the final home match of the season. Schavrien came to Mizzou after two years at Arizona State and has been a regular in the lineup ever since. His abilities may best be shown in the statistic that he’s scored bonus points in 17 of his 24 wins this season. The team’s other seniors are Luke Cherep, who’s put up a record of 35-18 wrestling at 133 and 141 pounds, and heavyweight Tyler Perry, a skilled wrestler who has had unfortunate luck at Mizzou, dealing with injuries while competing against two of the best heavyweights in school history, Mark Ellis and Dom Bradley, for time on the mat.
The team now begins preparing for the conference championships in Ames starting on March 5. National championships will be in Philadelphia, Penn., March 17-19.