Back when Willie Miklus was being recruited to join the Missouri wrestling team, he and longtime friend Alex Meyer took their official visit to Columbia together. They were teammates back then, both products of Southeast Polk high school in Pleasant Hill, Iowa, and combined to win three individual state championships.
“We’ve wrestled hundreds of times,” Miklus said. “He was my practice partner my senior year every day, pretty much. We’ve gone countless hours, countless goes. We still stay in touch. We’re still buddies.”
But who usually won in those practice goes?
“Uh, next question,” Miklus said, sparking a roar of laughter.
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As for the college decision, Miklus opted for Mizzou while Meyer stayed home to wrestle for Iowa. On Sunday afternoon, inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, they wrestled once again in the 184-pound bout of the NWCA National Duals Final, pitting the second-ranked Tigers against the No. 1 Hawkeyes.
Miklus won this round 6-5, with the help of a riding-time point, a crucial victory for a Missouri team that, in front of 6,846 fans — most of whom rooted for the home team — took down previously unbeaten Iowa 18-12.
“I told the kids before the match that it was going to be a battle — with the atmosphere and all that — but enjoy it,” coach Brian Smith said. “And they did. They showed up and wrestled.”
The Tigers wrapped up a perfect 24-0 regular season and won their first National Duals crown in the process. Come Tuesday, many figure Missouri will overtake Iowa in the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll as the top-ranked team in Division I wrestling.
Smith’s team proved its spotless record and high ranking was no fluke, as its win over Iowa was an exercise in domination. Missouri wrestlers won six of 10 individual matches and held an 11-6 takedown advantage. The only Hawkeye to score any offensive points in the first period was heavyweight Bobby Telford — in the dual’s final bout when the match was already in hand.
Six of Missouri’s 11 takedowns came from 141-pounder Lavion Mayes, who nearly scored the dual’s only bonus points in his 13-6 win over Josh Dziewa. Mayes, ranked fifth nationally, took Dziewa down at will, and was upset at himself for not securing the major decision.
“I should’ve gotten the major today. That would’ve been three on the weekend,” Mayes said. “… But I’m excited now. I went out there this weekend and I put on a show for the Iowa fans.”
The Tigers defeated both Illinois and Lehigh in the National Duals quarterfinals and semifinals the day before, winning 13 of 20 possible individual bouts. They kept the momentum going on Sunday by winning four of the first five matches for a 12-3 lead.
Iowa mounted a comeback after winning both the 165- and 174-pound bout to close the gap to 12-9, but then Miklus went out and beat Meyer. Defending NCAA Champion J’Den Cox followed Miklus and sealed the dual with a 3-2 win over Nathan Burak at 197.
“I said this the other day, but our kids have been consistent all year,” Smith said. “We’ve been to Ohio State. We’ve been to Cornell. This was just another venue, and this was just another team. You have to focus that way.
“We have to worry about our team. We had to go out and do what we could do. And we did that.”
After talking to reporters, Miklus walked back to the locker room underneath the arena holding the championship trophy. Mayes held it in his hand, impressive by its size and weight.
“It’s kind of heavy,” he said, before handing it to Miklus.
“Yeah,” Miklus agreed, “but it feels good.”