No one would have blamed Missouri redshirt freshman Daniel Lewis for being nervous.
Lewis competed in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Thursday for the first time, taking his sport’s biggest stage inside one of the world’s most iconic venues, Madison Square Garden.
It didn’t faze Lewis, a Blue Springs graduate who pinned his first opponent and toyed with his second on the way to the 165-pound quarterfinals.
“We train all year for this,” Lewis said. “It is a big tournament, but it’s nothing new. It’s just wrestling matches. It’s tough wrestling, but that’s all we do in our room.”
Three other Tigers — junior 149-pounder Lavion Mayes, sophomore 184-pounder Willie Miklus and junior 197-pounder J’den Cox — joined Lewis in the quarterfinals with two more wrestlers surviving to day two in the consolation bracket.
At the end of the day, Missouri was tied for fifth with 17.5 points.
“This tournament is a grind,” Mizzou coach Brian Smith said. “You see upsets left and right and craziness, but we have four guys that are still in the hunt to win national titles. You have to feel good about that.”
Lewis, who is seeded fourth, admitted to a few butterflies before his opening match, “but I wouldn’t even call it nerves. It’s more of like an anxious jitter,” he said. “You get that feeling, because it’s show time, it’s go time and it’s time to put it all on the line. I take that and turn it into quickness and reflexes.”
Lewis worked over Edinboro’s Casey Fuller before a third-period pin and followed that with a 5-1 decision against the No. 13 seed, Stanford’s Jim Wilson, in the evening session.
“I didn’t expect any less,” Lewis said. “It’s a good feeling to progress on the front side, but there’s more to come.”
Cox, who is seeded second, also opened with a pin. He needed only 1:18 to dispatch Rutgers’ Hayden Hrymack in the first round.
“When he’s going out there with a mindset to score points and using his athleticism and his technique, he’s a scary dude,” Smith said.
Cox was dominant again in the second round, scoring 15-4 major decision against Chattanooga’s Scottie Boykin.
“I’m glad I got a match to go all seven minutes like that at a good, high pace with someone who’s going to wrestle through position,” Cox said.
Miklus, who is seeded 14th, started slow in the first period of his first match against Oregon State’s Corey Griego during the first round, but he finished strong with a 15-6 major decision.
Meeting Buffalo’s Joe Ariola for the fourth time this season in the second round, Miklus earned another major decision with a 9-1 victory.
Miklus now owns a technical fall and two major decisions this season against Ariola, who upset No. 3 Victor Avery of Edinboro in the first round, but he insists that wasn’t a factor.
“Wrestling Ariola before doesn’t mean anything now,” Miklus said. “He pulled off one upset. I knew he could easily pull off another. The kid’s really tough and strong and big. I didn’t take him lightly at all, but I was confident throughout the whole thing.”
Mayes advanced with a 3-2 decision against Oklahoma’s Davion Jeffries and a 5-3 win against Duke’s Mitch Finesilver.
Sophomore 125-pounder Barlow McGhee was seeded eighth, but he suffered a second-round loss against Northern Iowa’s Dylan Peters in the first tiebreaker on a referee’s decision.
“That was a tough one, getting the takedown (in the first tiebreaker) and then getting it waved off is frustrating,” Smith said. “They said (McGhee) pulled (Peters’) kneepad. He had a big brace on. I think we just got caught in the kneepad, but they gave him a penalty point so that’s the call.”
McGhee remain alive in the consolation bracket along with senior 174-pounder Blaise Butler, who was seeded third. He lost to Oklahoma’s Matt Reed in the first round, but bounced back with a 13-2 major decision against Princeton’s Johnathan Schleifer.
Oklahoma senior Cody Brewer, the defending national champ at 133, reached the quarterfinals with a pair of major decisions.
“I feel good,” said Brewer, who is a graduate of Oak Park High School. “I feel like my feet are moving and I’m really going after it as much as I can. More than anything, I’m happy to be here again and get another shot.”
Junior 133-pounder Zach Synon and senior 157-pounder Le’Roy Barnes were eliminated along with junior 141-pounder Matt Manley, who was seeded fifth but wrestled on one leg after suffering ligament damage in right knee at the Mid-American Conference Championships.
Manley’s injury will require surgery.