2023-24 Missouri Wrestling

Mizzou Wrestling Healthy, Primed For Another Conference Title Push

Mizzou Wrestling Healthy, Primed For Another Conference Title Push

Missouri ended the regular season injuries, illnesses and two lopsided losses, but the Tigers are primed for another conference title run.

Mar 7, 2024 by Matthew Smith
Mizzou Wrestling Healthy, Primed For Another Conference Title Push

A dozen consecutive conference titles powered by 46 individual league champs. 

A lineup loaded with veterans who have contributed to those numbers. 

Brian Smith and the Missouri Tigers are proud of what they’ve accomplished the last 12 years during the first step of the postseason — and they’d like to continue adding to college wrestling’s longest active streak of conference tournament supremacy. 

“We talked about it at the beginning of the year as a goal,” Smith said. “We looked up at the board and there were 12 straight years of winning a conference championship. It's important and that's always a goal of our program, and still is.

“Going in, people are writing us off a little bit, but there is opportunity. This team knows how to compete.”

Mizzou won the Big 12 tournament in 2012, went off to the Mid-American Conference for nine years and ruled that league for the entirety of its stay and has since won two more Big 12 titles since coming back to the league in 2021. 

“I don't think (the conference title streak) adds pressure, it's just an exciting thing,” Missouri 197-pounder Rocky Elam said. “It maybe means a little bit more, which excites us. It creates a little bit more hunger for our team to continue the streak.”

The Big 12 race looked like a three-team battle on paper last year between Missouri, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The Tigers took control with a 6-3 semifinal round. The six finalists fueled Mizzou’s title run, but only one — Rocky Elam — left Tulsa with an individual crown. 

“We weren't very happy with how we performed in that last session,” said Noah Surtin, the 2023 conference runner-up at 125. “Last year, we were all just laying around all day, and I think that's part of the reason we went out a little slow. So I think it's just getting our bodies moving more and now we kind of know what to expect.”

Mizzou might not be able to afford a final-round stumble this year. Based on seeds, the Cowboys and Cyclones are slight favorites over the Tigers. 

“The tournament is going to be very tough, there's no doubt about it. It's one of the toughest years of the Big 12,” Smith said. “The team that's going to win it is going to win those tight matches. With the new rules and the three-point takedown, you can score a few takedowns and get that separation. Bonus points and winning tight matches are the key.”

For some, the conference tournament is a necessary step toward bigger goals later this month at the NCAA Championships in Kansas City. It’s a qualifying tournament with 57 automatic bids — five at 141, 184 and 285 pounds and six at every other weight — to the national tournament at stake. 

The Tigers aren’t getting ahead of themselves, though, especially with goals to accomplish in Tulsa. 

“I honestly feel like we don't talk about (winning the Big 12 team title) that much just because it's an expectation,” Surtin said. “I think that's why we've accomplished what we have accomplished. We know if put the work in and work hard, do our due diligence, and get ready both physically and mentally, the work just kind of takes care of itself.”

Surtin is one of Mizzou’s two #1 seeds. The other is two-time NCAA champion Keegan O’Toole at 165. 

The Tigers’ title hopes likely hinge on their ability to outperform their seeds in Tulsa. Smith feels he has a team that’s capable of doing so. 

“We've wrestled some of the best teams in the country — Virginia Tech, Cornell, Arizona State, among others,” he said. “We've had a tough schedule. They've been through the grind of the schedule. Getting out here and having tough back-to-back matches, it's not going to faze them.

“This team is relaxed. When you say, are they more dialed in this week, I think that's just instinct that this is a really important week, but they're always that way. They're prepared and have prepared themselves. We're focused on winning a conference title. It's important to us. When we step on that bus to go to Tulsa, it's a business trip, and we're going down there to win the darn thing.”

Lineup Update

Missouri closed the regular season with a lineup decimated by injuries and illness. The Tigers wrestled without seven regulars in dual defeats at Northern Iowa and Iowa State. 

But the Tigers are expected to have all 10 starters ready for the Big 12 Championships. 

Kade Moore and Logan Gioffre are back after missing more than a month with injuries. 

Moore is 10-3 and seeded sixth at 133. 

“I'm excited for both Kade and Logan,” Smith said. “Kade's practices started kind of ugly, and then Sunday before Iowa State it started to progress. This whole week now he has been just awesome. It's the old Kade, maybe even a step better because he's so dialed in. I’m ready to see Kade on the mat because he's a dangerous dude.” 

Gioffre is seeded eighth at 149 after compiling a 5-5 record.  

“We didn't know if he was going to be able to wrestle and every day he just progressed and got better and better.

“When you look at (his record) you could say he's not going to be prepared. The 10 matches he's had, every one of those guys is lights out and good. Logan battles with every guy, so he has no fear, he's ready to go.”

The Tigers started the season with a hotly contested lineup battle at 184 pounds with returning starter Colton Hawks and talented freshman Clayton Whiting, who surged into the top 10 in the national rankings. 

Ultimately, the Tigers opted to enter Hawks in the postseason. 

“Hawks has two top-10 wins and another top-20 win,” Smith said. “That was about it, so we're going with Hawks. Obviously, Clayton's disappointed, but they are working out, and preparing for the next year. It's never easy knowing you have two kids that are that very close.”