Drake Houdashelt doesn’t know what will consume his thoughts anymore when he climbs into bed at night.
For the last five years since committing to the Missouri wrestling program, Houdashelt has imagined himself hugging the Tigers’ coaching staff after winning a national title.
“All I thought about was getting my hand raised out there on the mat, on the stage, and it kept me up a lot of nights,” Houdashelt said.
Houdashelt doesn’t have to daydream about it anymore.
He lived the moment Saturday during the NCAA Division I wrestling national championship at the Scottrade Center, when he secured a takedown 32 seconds into the first sudden-victory overtime period of the 149-pound final for a 3-1 win against Edinboro’s David Habat.
Houdashelt, a redshirt senior from Fort Zumwalt West in O’Fallon, Mo., reached the national semifinals twice before only to have his dream deferred.
That only made it sweeter for Houdashelt to vault into assistant coach Alex Clemsen’s arms and pump both fists toward the wildly cheering Tigers’ fans in section 103 after winning the final match of his college career.
“It just feels unreal,” said Houdashelt, who was the top seed and finished the season 37-1. “I mean, I just wrestle every day, coming into the room no matter what kind of mood I’m in or what kind of day I’m having.
“I just put everything aside and just wrestle. I always give my best effort every day, in every practice, and it paid off.”
During his five-match run to the title, Houdashelt outscored his opponents 29-3, including a 17-1 margin in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final.
Clemsen, who called Houdashelt’s win (and the celebratory hug that followed) the third-best feeling of his life behind getting married and the birth of his children, credited an unyielding work ethic for producing the dream moment.
“He is so not afraid of getting tired that every day what he’s willing to put in and get out of himself, it’s unparalleled,” Clemsen said. “No one, and I mean this, no one does what he does. I’ve been around Division I wrestling 13 years now.”
Houdashelt also was the top seed at nationals as a junior, but tore his hamstring in the quarterfinals. He won that match anyway, but lost his next two — including a 5-4 decision against Habat in the consolation semifinals — before winning the fifth-place match.
Houdashelt, whose left eye was blackened during his quarterfinal win, is the fifth MU wrestler to win a national title and won the program’s sixth championship overall.
All have come during Brian Smith’s 17-year tenure.
Houdashelt is the third three-time All-American in program history — joining Ben Askren, a four-time All-American and the program’s only two-time champion, and Askren’s brother, Max.
Missouri, which entered the tourney ranked No. 1, finished fourth as a team behind Ohio State, Iowa and Edinboro.
It is the second-best national finish in program history and only the second time the Tigers finished on the podium as a team. MU was third in 2007.
Missouri senior Alan Waters didn’t win the national title he so desperately wanted, but he did win two matches Saturday and finish his career in third place at 125 pounds.
“I was really crushed (Friday), so I had to overcome that and just think, ‘I’ve got to go get the team points,’” said Waters, a two-time All-American and Park Hill graduate. “My team needed me today.”
Waters finished with a 136-14 career record. He owns the second-most wins and second-best win percentage (.907) in Tigers history, trailing only two-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American Ben Askren.
Houdashelt sits third with 134 career wins.
Missouri sophomore J’den Cox, whose quest for a repeat at 197 was derailed in Friday’s semifinals, lost back-to-back matches for the first time in his college career.
But he also finished the season with a win, taking down Duke’s Conner Hartmann at the buzzer in the first overtime tiebreaker for a 4-2 win in the 197-pound fifth-place match.
Missouri’s other two All-Americans, sophomore 141-pounder Lavion Mayes and redshirt freshman 184-pounder Willie Miklus, both finished seventh.
Another wrestler with Kansas City ties made the 133-pound final, Oklahoma’s Cody Brewer, but his match was being held later on Saturday.
Brewer — an Oak Park graduate, four-time Missouri state champion and The Star’s 2011 All-Metro wrestler of the year — was the No. 13 and faced the No. 3 seed, Cory Clark of Iowa, in the title bout.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.