Missouri senior Alan Waters didn’t enjoy his first three trips to the national wresting tournament.
It wasn’t just that he lost. It’s that he was so focused on winning that nothing else mattered.
Waters — whose 133 career wins and .911 win percentage are second in Tigers history only to Ben Askren — left those national tournaments with a hollow feeling, but he’s determined not to let it happen again.
“I’m trying to enjoy myself right now,” said Waters, a Park Hill graduate who entered the NCAA Division I wrestling national championships on Thursday undefeated and seeded first at 125 pounds.
After picking up two wins and advancing to the quarterfinals on Thursday at the Scottrade Center, Waters was all smiles even though he wasn’t completely thrilled with a 6-1 win against Old Dominion’s Brandon Jeske and a 4-0 victory against Michigan’s Conor Youtsey.
“I haven’t gotten any bonus points yet and that’s something big we need to get here,” Waters said. “I think I’m wrestling fine. I think I’m doing well … but my style clashes with people who don’t go out and wrestle.”
Jeske and Youtsey, who coughed up penalty points for an illegal front headlock and clasped hands, deployed defensive styles.
Waters hopes the wrestling opens up Friday beginning with a quarterfinal against American’s David Terao.
But even if it doesn’t, Waters won’t let it rob the joy of his final collegiate tournament.
He’ll be much happier if the Tigers pick things up as a team.
Missouri, which is the top-ranked team in the USA Today/National Wrestling Coaches Association poll, has 18 team points and sits in a fifth-place tie with Nebraska after the first day.
Ohio State has 23 points to lead the team standings followed by Iowa (21), Oklahoma State (19 1/2) and four-time reigning champion Penn State (18 1/2).
“I don’t like where we are right now,” Tigers coach Brian Smith said. “I’d rather be in first, but we have an opportunity to do great things still.”
Missouri’s other two top seeds, senior 149-pounder Drake Houdashelt and sophomore 197-pounder J’den Cox, also advanced to quarterfinals along with Waters.
Four other Tigers — sophomore 141-pounder Lavion Mayes, senior 165-pounder Mikey England, freshman 184-pounder Willie Miklus and senior heavyweight Devin Mellon — won first-round matches, but then dropped to the consolation side.
Two other wrestlers, sophomore 157-pounder Joey Lavallee and senior 174-pounder Johnny Eblen, lost in the opening round, but rebounded with wrestleback wins.
Sophomore 133-pounder Zach Synon was the only Tigers wrestler to be eliminated on the first day.
“We’ve got nine still in it and there aren’t too many teams that probably have nine still in it …,” Smith said. “We have nine opportunities to score points (Friday). … Most teams have a lot of guys on the back side, and that’s where the tournament is won. We’ve got to put our three guys in the finals. That’s obvious, because we’ll score some big points in the semis, but we’ve got to have those back-side guys helping us out.”
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.