Daniel Lewis smiled at a particular question last Monday, one where he was asked if the Missouri wrestling team could surprise people this weekend in St. Louis at the NCAA wrestling championships.
“Yeah, for sure,” said Lewis, a sophomore 165-pounder and Blue Springs native. “We’ve got a crazy tough tournament team, and I think we’re just going to go out there and prove it.”
On Thursday, Missouri did just that, sending five of eight Tiger wrestlers that initially made the national tournament into the quarterfinals that will begin at 10 a.m. on Friday.
Missouri senior 197-pounder J’den Cox — who is striving to become the first wrestler in Missouri program history to win three individual national championships — is one of the five. So, too, is Lewis.
Cox was proud of his team’s performance on day one.
“I think my team’s sitting in a great spot. Guys are wrestling with passion, with fire,” Cox said. “They want it, and they’re going out to get it. They’re not holding anything back.”
Six of the 11 team wins Missouri amassed earned bonus points — including both of Cox’s matches, the first in which he secured a fall in the opening period.
Missouri freshman heavyweight Austin Meyers, as well as junior 125-pounder Barlow McGhee fell in their opening matches. Park Hill alum and sophomore 133-pounder John Erneste lost in his second round match.
Like the Olympic bronze medalist in Cox, though, Missouri junior 157-pounder Joey Lavallee secured a fall in his opening match of the tournament.
Then, after his second-round win, Lavallee shared much of his success with freshman 141-pounder Jaydin Eierman, whom made the quarterfinals and whom Lavallee said has pushed him all year.
“We’ve just been competing with each other all year,” Lavallee said. “... I tried to get that pin for the team. I wanted that pin for the team.”
Along with Cox, these championships are the last hurrah for Missouri senior 149-pounder Lavion Mayes.
That’s why, when he was forced into a tiebreaker with Northern Iowa sophomore Steve Bleise, he was determined to pull out the victory.
That he did, winning 2-1, which set the stage for a weekend run.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it, and the atmosphere is kicking into a whole ’nother drive,” Cox said. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”