Mizzou wrestling seeks another conference title

Oak Grove grad Connor Brown to miss MAC Championships with injury suffered in practice

By Joe Lyons
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A different and somewhat crazy wrestling season is beginning to wind down for the University of Missouri and head coach Brian Smith.

The Tigers, ranked fifth nationally after going 10-0 in duals this season, will look to add to their run of nine consecutive conference titles this weekend when they compete in the Mid-American Conference championships at the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey.

Mizzou's current title run began in 2012, when they hosted and won in their final Big 12 season.

"It's been a strange season, no question, but we just want to keep working toward St. Louis," said Smith, noting that University of Missouri and the St. Louis Sports Commission will co-host the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships March 18-20 at Enterprise Center. "I'm happy with the way our guys have competed, overcoming the shutdowns, practicing in small groups and all the changes we've had to deal with. It's been a struggle at times, but we've kept our focus and our guys have done a great job."

The Tigers enter the weekend with top two seeds in eight of 10 weight classes. The exceptions: sophomore heavyweight Zach Elam (6-3), an NCAA qualifier as a true freshman in 2019, is seeded third while another sophomore, Noah Surtin (3-2), will step in at 125 pounds for Connor Brown, who was injured in the team's final practice this week.

Connor Brown

"I feel bad for Connor — he's had a great season — but this is an opportunity for Noah to step in and show what he can do," Smith said of the Oak Grove High School graduate and transfer from South Dakota State. Surtin was a three-time medalist in high school, winning an Illinois AA title as a junior and finishing as runner-up as a senior.

Top seeds for the Tigers this weekend include junior Matt Schmitt (5-1) at 133, junior Allan Hart (9-0) at 141, junior Brock Mauller (10-0) at 149, and true freshman Keegan O'Toole (9-0) at 165. Mauller, already a two-time MAC champion, placed sixth and won an NCAA medal as a true freshman in 2019.

Earning No. 2 seeds for Mizzou this weekend are junior Jarrett Jacques (8-1) at 157, sophomore Peyton Mocco (9-0) at 174, sophomore Jeremiah Kent (7-0) at 184 and true freshman Rocky Elam (7-0) at 197.

"Personally, I used to get really uptight, worrying about seeds and matchups. But not anymore," Smith said. "I have confidence in myself, my assistants, my staff and our guys. Because of our depth, these guys have been tested every single day in the practice room and that's why they're prepared and ready to compete.

"Now's the time for fun, to go out and show what they can do on the mat."

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville also competes in the MAC. Top seeds for the Cougars include No. 3 Saul Ervin (7-3) at 141, No. 3 Justin Ruffin (8-2) at 157, No. 6 Colton McKiernan (5-2) at heavyweight, No. 8 Aaron Schulist (2-0) at 133 and No. 8 Ryan Yarnell (6-4) at 184. Yarnell, a junior, was an undefeated state champion as a senior at Windsor High in Imperial, Missouri.

No fans will be allowed in the arena this weekend.

"Yesterday, the governor opened up athletics in New Jersey, but it's too late to get workers for the weekend," Smith explained.

Missouri is ranked fifth nationally behind Iowa, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Michigan. The Tigers placed fourth at the NCAAs in 2015 and finished fifth in 2016; they were sixth in 2016, 2018 and 2019.