Missouri wrestling cruised to a fourth straight Mid-American Conference crown and fifth consecutive conference championship overall Sunday with a dominant performance at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich.
The Tigers, who also won the Big 12 in 2012, laid waste to the 2016 MAC Wrestling Championships, winning titles in five of 10 weight classes.
“We wrestled a lot better today than we did (Saturday),” Missouri coach Brian Smith said. “We made some mental mistakes yesterday and lost some tough matches. To get the title again, it’s never easy. Central (Michigan) did push us at a certain point and it got close, but we stepped up today and got a lot of wins.”
No program in Tigers history had ever won four consecutive conference championships before Sunday, when Mizzou totaled 127 1/2 points and finished 34 ahead of runner-up Central Michigan.
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“That’s amazing,” sophomore 125-pound champion Barlow McGhee said. “There’s no team in Missouri history that has done that but us, and it feels so great that I was able to contribute to it.”
Junior 197-pounder J’den Cox avenged his only loss of the season with an inspired performance in the final against Ohio senior Phillip Wellington, who won against Cox by disqualification in December.
McGhee, senior 157-pounder Le’Roy Barnes, redshirt freshman 165-pounder Daniel Lewis and senior 174-pounder Blaise Butler also claimed MAC crowns.
Cox, 28-1, racked up nearly 4 minutes of riding time after taking Wellington down only 18 seconds into the match.
“He went out, hit a beautiful shot and grinds the kid’s face into the mat,” Smith said. “He just dominates him and gets a major decision. He is believing, for sure.”
Cox, a three-time MAC champion and the tourney’s most-outstanding wrestler, was never challenged in a 9-1 major decision.
“My ceiling is pretty high,” Cox said, “but I have bigger goals. Winning the MAC is great. It’s beautiful. Winning with my team and my family (here), it’s great. It’s an awesome feeling, but I think we all know we want more.”
McGhee, 22-7, upset top-seeded Dylan Peters of Northern Iowa 9-5 for his first conference championship, but he didn’t consider it an upset.
“I look at it is as, I shouldn’t lose, because I’ve worked too hard,” said McGhee, who was winless in three previous matches versus Peters. “It definitely felt good to go out and beat a guy I’d never beaten before, especially to go out and dominate the way that I did. That really meant a lot to me.”
Still, the best moment of the day probably belonged to Barnes, a Belton graduate and Neosho County Community College transfer. He upended Northern Iowa freshman Bryce Steiert for his first conference title.
After starting the season as the backup at 141 pounds, Barnes, 27-8, might even earn a top-16 seed at the NCAA Tournament after his 10-2 major decision in the final.
“There’s a lot of hard work and dedication that went into it, not only from me but from my coaching staff and my teammates helping me along the way,” said Barnes, who entered as the fifth seed. “They’ve put up with me and been willing to get extra workouts in with me, so it was a lot of work but definitely worth it.”
Lewis, a Blue Springs graduate, rolled 8-3 against Eastern Michigan’s Dakota Juarez in his final and Butler survived against Central Michigan’s Michael Ottinger in overtime. Butler, a 2014 ACC champion at Virginia before transferring to Mizzou, upset the top-seeded Ottinger based on riding time several overtime sessions.
Missouri only lost one championship match.
Junior 141-pounder Matt Manley forfeited his title bout against Old Dominion’s Chris Mecate to rest a sprained knee injury he picked up in Saturday’s semifinal.
Two top-seeded Tigers who were upset in Saturday’s semifinals, sophomore 184-pounder Willie Miklus and junior 149-pounder Lavion Mayes, earned automatic NCAA berths Sunday with wins.
2016 Mid-American Conference Wrestling Championships
Final team standings
1. Missouri, 127.5; 2. Central Michigan, 93.5; 3. Ohio, 76; 4. Kent State, 75.5; 5. Northern Iowa, 73.5; 6. Northern Illinois, 65; 7. Buffalo, 56; 8. Eastern Michigan, 54.5; 9. Old Dominion, 36.5.
Sunday’s Missouri results
Championship: Barlow McGhee, Missouri, dec. Dylan Peters, Northern Iowa, 9-5.
Championship: Chris Mecate, Old Dominion, forfeit Matt Manley, Missouri (sprained knee).
Consolation semifinals: Lavion Mayes, Missouri, m.d. Colt Cotton, Buffalo, 15-6. Third place — Nick Barber, Eastern Michigan, forfeit Mayes (eye).
Championship: Le’Roy Barnes, Missouri, m.d. Bryce Steiert, Northern Iowa, 10-2.
Championship: Daniel Lewis, Missouri, dec. Dakota Juarez, Eastern Michigan, 8-3.
Championship: Blaise Butler, Missouri, dec. Michael Ottinger, Central Michigan, 4-3 (TB-2).
Consolation semifinals: Willie Miklus, Missouri, p. Drew Foster, Northern Iowa, 5:33. Third place — Miklus dec. Joe Ariola, Buffalo, 10-3.
Championship: J’den Cox, Missouri, m.d. Phillip Wellington, Ohio, 9-1.
Consolation semifinals: Devin Nye, Kent State, dec. Cody Johnston, Missouri, 7-2. Fifth place — Newton Smerchek, Central Michigan, dec. Johnston 6-0.