Daniel Lewis knows that when he wrestles at the University of Missouri next season, it won’t be near the same as his years at Blue Springs High School – where he became one of 24 boys in Missouri prep history to win four state championships – as well as the years before that.
Lewis won’t be able to manhandle nearly every opponent he encounters on the mat, but that doesn’t mean he won’t keep trying for that result.
The senior compiled a four-year record of 186-4 and won state titles at 103, 126, 138 and 160 pounds, and for the second year in a row he is The Examiner’s Wrestler of the Year.
“I’m going to work for the same goals as in high school,” said Lewis, who went unbeaten his last two years at Blue Springs. “I want to dominate kids and pin kids.
“Probably the thing I’m going to miss is some of the easy matches,” he said. “In college it’s going be a grind, a battle every time I step out on there.”
At times, area wrestling fans probably thought all Lewis’ matches were easy. This season, no opponent lasted into the third period against him – a few technical falls but mostly quick pins after Lewis struck for an early takedown and employed his nasty trademark cradle hold.
“It’s absolutely unheard of,” veteran Blue Springs coach Mike Hagerty, who has also been a college coach at Central Missouri, said of Lewis’ third-period-free season. “I’ve never been around any wrestler in my life at any level that’s done that.”
“Daniel has always been able to up the ante when the competition level goes up, and that’s a characteristic that defines best of the best,” Hagerty said, adding that Dom Bradley, a Blue Springs three-time state champion, a Mizzou two-time All-American and FILA Junior World champion, possessed that same trait. “He will be able to compete very quick at that (college) level. His skill set will be broadened and he’ll be even better.”
Lewis said he picked up wrestling when he was 7 years old and his family lived in New Jersey, and he picked it up quickly.
“My first three years I qualified for state biddy tournaments,” he said. “We moved to Missouri in 2005 (Lewis was in fourth grade), and I won state every year I’ve been in Missouri.”
Success like that naturally grows high expectations, but while Lewis said he was aware of those expectations, especially as he marched toward a fourth state title, they never bothered him but rather fueled his efforts.
“The pressure was obviously there, but I just kept doing the right thing and kept training for exactly that,” he said.
“Even when I had some losses my freshman and sophomore years, I learned from that. It didn’t take many losses for me to adjust and overcome.”
In addition to being superbly strong and cat-quick, Hagerty characterized Lewis’ attack as a untraditional.
“He shoots a lot more head-outside singles,” Hagerty said, “and he leads with his left hand and left leg, one thing that adds to his advantage.
“He uses his leverage well, is well-versed in all three positions. It makes him very difficult to score on. He’s probably more efficient than any wrestlers I’ve seen at the high school level. He spends his energy in scoring situations.”
And of course, he had a move opponents rarely could stop even though they knew it was coming.
“In eighth grade I started utilizing it,” Lewis said of the cradle. “With my long arms, I built my whole top game from that.”
Lewis plans to major in mechanical engineering at Missouri, and while he could redshirt as a freshman wrestler, Hagerty said people are wondering if Lewis might follow in the footsteps of Columbia Hickman High School graduate J’Den Cox, who achieved four state titles in four classes right before Lewis and earlier this month won a national title as a freshman at Missouri.
“I think Daniel will always have somewhat of target on his back,” Hagerty said. “Right away (after the fourth state title) I heard people using his name, ‘Is it possible lightning could strike twice?’”