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Iowa, Ohio State, Mizzou all primed for NCAA run

BY CODY GOODWIN | MARCH 10, 2015 5:00 AM

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Missouri’s Alan Waters was given the Most Outstanding Wrestler Award of the Mid-American Conference Tournament over the weekend. He deserved it after winning two matches by technical fall and nearly getting a major decision Northern Iowa’s Dylan Peters in the finals.

In all, Waters outscored his opponents a combined 45-5 en route to a 125-pound MAC title. He said he’s put a focus on opening up more on the mat, which has led to the lopsided scoring. But he added another reason for the domination.

“Team points,” said Waters, Flowrestling’s top-ranked 125-pounder. “I have that mindset going out there. I have to get the major, the tech, the pin — whatever it takes to get those team points. That’s going to be big this year at the national tournament.”

Missouri, of course, compiled a truckload of team points to win the MAC Tournament, outscoring second-place Old Dominion by 42. Roughly 530 miles east, right down I-70, Iowa and Ohio State both piled up enough bonus points to earn co-champions status at the Big Ten championships at St. John Arena in Columbus.

In two weeks, all three teams will vie for the NCAA team title at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The Tigers, Buckeyes, and Hawkeyes are considered the favorites, and it is largely expected that bonus points and crucial victories will play a role in deciding the champion.

“You have to win the close matches,” Ohio State coach Tom Ryan said. “We had a lot of close matches. We lost two in the finals. You have to win the close ones.

“But you have to believe. A large part of it is believing. … You have to believe, before the match even starts, that you’re going to get your hand raised.”

Before the first round begins on March 19, Missouri has an advantage over its Big Ten counterparts — all 10 starters earned automatic-qualifying bids to the Big Dance because of their individual finishes at the MACs.

Just nine Buckeyes and eight Hawkeyes, as of this writing, will compete that Thursday night in the Gateway City, though each team will likely get their entire lineups through after the NCAA announces the qualifiers for each weight class on Wednesday.

“Nick Moore and Michael Kelly [at 165 and 157 pounds] did a lot of work in the ninth-place side of the bracket,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “It’s going to come down to at-large positions…It just depends on how it shakes out, but we have a good case for two other guys.”

Brands added that it will take some top-notch individual performances for the Hawkeyes to win their first national title since 2010. He said his wrestlers struggled to finish takedowns and escape from bottom during the Big Ten Tournament, and that those will be points of emphasis during these next two weeks.

Missouri coach Brian Smith knows he will need every point he can get if the Tigers are to wrap up a completely perfect season — in addition to winning the MAC Tournament, they finished 24-0 in duals this year and beat Iowa for the National Duals Championship.

The last thing on Missouri’s list is to win a national championship, something the program has never done. And to do that — well, Smith said he isn’t going to change a thing.

“I’d be an idiot if I did,” he said. “We just have to keep them focused. I always tell my coaches we have to get the horses in the gate. If we get them in the gate, they just run. That’s what we have right now.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa wrestling team.


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