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Missouri's lineup was young but deep last season.
With only three senior starters, the Tigers captured an eighth straight Mid-American Conference title and were perfect in MAC duals (8-0) for the third straight year. Missouri knocked off an Iowa State team which finished 10-5 and outlasted Wisconsin for the Cougar Clash title.
The Tigers' season-ending roster contained 13 NCAA qualifiers -- eight who qualified this year and five past qualifiers. All but two will return.
Among them is two-time qualifier Matt Schmitt (133 pounds), who will be eligible after transferring from West Virginia in January. The Tigers also recently added three-time Missouri state champion Sam Frankowski (157), who spent last season at a prep school.
Only three starters depart, including Connor Flynn (174) and Dylan Wisman (184). Both are two-time NCAA qualifiers and MAC champions, but those projected to fill all three vacancies have started on a regular basis in the past.
Any coaching staff would be elated to bring such depth back, but coach Brian Smith added even more by landing four of the nation's top 64 Class of 2020 recruits -- No. 2 Keegan O'Toole (165 pounds), No. 14 Rocky Elam (197), No. 41 Josh Edmond (149), and No. 64 Colton Hawks (184).
Smith's Class of 2021 recruiting class is also off to a productive start with the commitment of No. 28 Ethen Miller (141).
|125||1||Cameron Valdivez||Redshirt JR|
|125||2||Dack Punke||Redshirt JR|
|125||3||Cevion Severado||Redshirt JR|
|125||4||Noah Surtin||Redshirt FR|
This season: Unlike last season, Valdivez should begin the year as an established starter. He bounced around the lineup for more than half of last season before wresting the starting role from 2019 NCAA Qualifier Dack Punke. In all, Valdivez made seven starts at 125 and four at 133, but likely won't be needed at 133 next season. He finished 20-12, up from 9-5 the previous season, and actually led the Tigers in pins with nine. He placed fifth at the MAC Championships.
Long-term outlook: Given the number of quality underclassmen at this weight, there was no need for Smith to recruit for it during the past year. Valdivez will have to remain sharp to keep a grip on the starting role with Punke, who made a total of 12 starts at 125/133 last season, ready to jump in if he falters. Surtin could very well ascend up the depth chart after going 20-7 during his redshirt season with 16 bonus-point wins. He split four meetings with Sevarado.
|133||1||Matt Schmitt||Redshirt JR|
|133||2||Allan Hart||Redshirt JR|
|133||3||Connor Brown||Redshirt JR|
This season: How deep is this weight class? Brown, a 2018 NCAA qualifier while wrestling for South Dakota State, projects to be only third on the coming season's depth chart. Schmitt, who went 42-24 in two seasons with Mountaineers, reached the round of 16 at the 2018 NCAA Championships before an elbow injury slowed him the next year and he went 1-2. The former West Virginia captain, who took an Olympic redshirt last season, is 14th in the current Division I rankings.
Long-term outlook: Hart came into his own last season with a 20-9 record, winning 10 of his final 12 matches, and becoming an NCAA qualifier. He was also second at the MAC Tournament and earned bonus points in 13 wins, but will be hard-pressed to overcome Schmitt. Brown was 10-1 with six pins last season but was hampered by a shoulder injury. Crawford, a three-time Fargo All-American, went 84-12 for Kansas City Park Hill High School. Robert Crawford, his father, was a 1990 All-American for the Tigers.
|141||1||Grant Leeth||Redshirt SR|
|141||2||Precious Essien||Redshirt FR|
This season: Leeth, currently ranked 17th, endured another injury-plagued season and was limited to nine starts in duals. Still, he went 15-5 and was an NCAA qualifier for the second time. The NCAA does not keep official records, but thanks to major injuries that resulted in medical redshirts and a regular redshirt season, Leeth could unofficially set a record for longest collegiate wrestling career. It began in the fall of 2014 at Duke. Next season, Leeth hopes to regain the form of 2017-18 when he won a MAC title and became an All-American by finishing sixth at the NCAA Championships. He will be 25 when the season begins.
Long-term outlook: Depth drops off after Leeth, so there is a strong possibility somebody from the crowded 133-pound ranks moves up. That's especially true if Edmond, a three-time Michigan state champion who finished with 158-3 high school record, redshirts. Essien was 17-8 during his redshirt year.
|149||2||Mitchell Bohlken||Redshirt FR|
This season: This spot belongs to Mauller for two more seasons. The two-time NCAA qualifier is the MAC's highest-ranked wrestler, currently sitting third. He finished 28-1 last season with six major decisions and two technical falls. After placing sixth at the NCAA Championships as a true freshman, Mauller appeared a lock to become an All-American again. The two-time MAC champion's career record is 61-6 and his .966 career win percentage is the seventh-best in school history. Mauller, a first-team NWCA All-American, was also named Missouri's Most Valuable Wrestler and earned the team's Tiger Style Ironman Award which recognizes the wrestler who missed the least amount of competition and practice time.
Long-term outlook: The Tigers are thin here after Mauller, but Bohlken was 20-12 during his redshirt year. He will be given the chance to develop into Mauller's successor.
This season: Jacques, ranked 16th, will be seeking a third straight trip to the NCAA Championships and second MAC title in three years. The NWCA honorable mention All-American finished 25-7 which upped his career mark to 54-15.
Long-term outlook: Frankowski, Missouri's Class 3 Wrestler of the Year as a senior at Rockwood Summit High School in 2019, originally committed to Navy. He spent last season at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, Rhode Island. Because of that experience, he is less likely than Pfleger to redshirt. Pfleger is a folkstyle All-American as well.
|165||1||Peyton Mocco||Redshirt SO|
|165||2||Sean Harman||Redshirt FR|
|165||3||Martell Boone||Redshirt JR|
This season: Mocco, currently ranked 20th, was 27-12 in his first season as a starter, the team's second-most victories behind Mauller. He became an NCAA qualifier and was also third in the MAC Tournament, part of a 19-5 record in his final 25 matches. In all, 55 percent of Mocco's wins came via pin (six), major decision (six) or technical fall (three). Mocco should hold on to his starting position, at least this coming season, with O'Toole, a Junior Dan Hodge Trophy winner, likely being redshirted.
Long-term outlook: Harman and O'Toole lurking behind Mocco make this weight class an interesting one to watch in the future. O'Toole, of course, comes with plenty of hype after becoming just 18th Wisconsin wrestler to capture four state titles. He won the final 111 matches of his prep career and, amazingly, the last 17 were via pin. O'Toole also was a four-time Fargo All-American with one championship and is an Askren Academy trainee. Harman was 20-1 with 16 bonus-point wins his redshirt year after winning Oregon state titles as junior and senior, going 168-0 in the process.
|174||2||Robert Weber||Redshirt FR|
This season: Kent appeared on his way to becoming a four-year starter, roaring to a 14-2 start last season with 10 bonus-point wins in his first 16 matches. That includes two wins over Flynn. However, Kent began to fade after that, going 5-5 in his final 10 matches to finish 19-7 with 13 bonus-point victories. Flynn regained his starting role near the end of January. Even so, Kent laid a solid foundation for the coming season.
Long-term outlook: Weber was only 13-8 during his redshirt, so Villalpando should have a great opportunity to move up the depth chart following his redshirt season. The two-time Kansas state champion went 111-13 in his high school career and was a folkstyle national champion.
|184||1||Canten Marriott||Redshirt SR|
This season: Marriott is the only 184-pounder listed on the 2020-21 roster who has wrestled a collegiate match. Expect him to finally return to the starting lineup after finding himself on the outside looking in much of the past two years. Marriott was 26-8 as a freshman in 2017-18, including a 1-2 mark at the NCAA Championships and third at the MAC Tournament. He has gone 17-8 the past two seasons.
Long-term outlook: Who backs up Marriott is an open question. Either Hawks or Nitzel will not be redshirted or perhaps redshirt sophomore Cordel Duhart, who started once at 184 last season, will move back down if needed. Hawks, a three-time Missouri state medalist and NHSCA Junior National champion at 182 pounds, finished with a 130-16 high school record. Nitzel, a two-time Kansas state runnerup, was 140-37. He is more likely to be redshirted after wrestling at a lower weight than Hawks in high school and needs time to grew into this weight class. In fact, Nitzel dropped a 7-4 decision to Villalpando in this year's 170-pound Kansas 5A state title match.
|197||1||Wyatt Koelling||Redshirt SR|
|197||2||Jack Flynn||Redshirt SO|
|197||3||Cordel Duhart||Redshirt SO|
This season: Koelling, currently ranked 24th, returns for a third season as a starter after going 20-7 and earning his first NCAA Championships berth. Koelling's career mark is 60-29. He hopes to fare better at the MAC Tournament next season after not placing this year and taking third in 2019.
Long-term outlook: Flynn was a reliable backup last season, starting twice, and finishing 12-11 with six bonus-point wins. Duhart is now listed a 197 after wrestling at 184 last season with the one start. He was 24-8 overall. However, Elam could very well succeed Koelling following the coming season. He was a two-time state Missouri champion, who went 198-16 in his high school career.
|285||1||Zach Elam||Redshirt SO|
|285||2||Rodrigo Diaz||Redshirt SR|
|285||3||Jace Punke||Redshirt SO|
This season: Elam, currently ranked 10th, returns to the starting lineup after taking an Olympic redshirt. Wrestling unattached, he went 16-2 with 10 pins. His best win was against NCAA Qualifier Quinn Miller (Virginia). Elam also took Fresno State's Josh Hokit, 10th in the final 2019-20 rankings, to the second tiebreaker before dropping a 6-4 decision. Elam was 25-11 as a freshman with six major decisions and five pins. Elam finished one win shy of All-American honors at the NCAA Championships and was third in the MAC Tournament.
Mark Spezia is a freelance writer based in Lapeer, Michigan. He has written for ESPNW, Flohockey, Flint, Michigan-based My City Magazine, the Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit Magazine and Troy, Michigan-based Oakland Press. He previously worked for the Flint Journal, Lapeer (Michigan) County Press and Daily Mining Gazette in Houghton, Michigan.