Missouri started Friday with six wrestlers still alive in the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships bracket.
The Tigers still had six wrestlers in the mix entering the evening session at Madison Square Garden, including three — redshirt freshman 165-pounder Daniel Lewis, sophomore 184-pounder Willie Miklus and junior 197-pounder J’den Cox. Each battled into the semifinals.
“It was a good round,” Smith said. “This is the fun part of the rollercoaster right there. We’ve got to get some more wins tonight and make it a really good weekend.”
All three semifinalist wrestlers are now guaranteed no worse than a sixth-place finish and have secured All-American honors.
Cox, who became the fourth three-time All-American in Mizzou history, scored a 6-0 quarterfinal win against Princeton’s Brett Harner that keeps him on track for a second national title.
“I’ve got more to do,” said Cox, a 2014 champion who also finished fifth at national last season. “I made a goal for myself, I’ve made a mission for myself, and I’m not done yet.”
Cox, who has reached the semifinals all three seasons, said the quarterfinal round is usually his worst round at the national tournament, but he was pleased with his performance against Harner.
“I controlled the match the whole time,” Cox said. “I don’t think there was any point in time you could have said he was going to take it away.”
Miklus, who reached the quarterfinal for the first time, scored his third major decision in three matches, toppling Penn’s Lorenzo Thomas 16-6 to move on to his first semifinal.
Thomas scored a couple early takedowns, which buried Miklus in a quick 4-1 hole.
“I was kind of freaking out,” Miklus said. “You guys probably didn’t notice, but I was.”
Once Miklus settled in, he dominated.
“I wanted to All-American and I’ve done that already, so now it’s on to the next step,” said Miklus, who the 18th wrestler in Missouri history to be a multiple-time All-American.
Finally, Lewis advanced with a 3-0 quarterfinal win Rider’s Connor Brennan.
“I knew the takedown was going to end the match, so I just stayed persistent,” Lewis said. “The first time I got in on his leg, that’s when I knew I was in for a real dogfight. He was strong as an ox, put real hard pressure down real fast, so I knew it was going to be a battle.”
Cox, the No. 2 seed, faces No. 3 seed Brett Pfarr of Minnesota in the semifinals, while Miklus, the No. 14 seed, drew No. 7 seed Timothy Dudley of Nebraska and Lewis drew No. 1 seed Cody Dieringer of Oklahoma State.
Dieringer, who is a two-time national champion already, enters the semifinals with an 81-match win streak, but his closest match this season was a 4-3 dual victory against Lewis.
“Daniel Lewis believes he’s winning tonight and so do we,” Smith said. “He gave up two takedowns in the last match and rode him for four minutes. Now, we’ve got to get a takedown.”
Oklahoma senior Cody Brewer, who is the defending 133-pound national champion, reached the semifinals again with an 8-4 decision against Penn State’s Jordan Conaway.
“It was a good hard match the whole time and that’s what this tournament’s about wrestling, wrestling the best guys and getting a good hard match in like that,” Brewer said.
Brewer, who is the fourth seed and faces top-seeded and undefeated Nahshon Garrett of Cornell in the semifinals, won a lengthy scramble midway through the match with Conaway for the match-changing takedown.
“I kept moving,” Brewer said. “He got in deep a couple times, but I was like, ‘I’m just not going to give it up.’ You’ve got to have that little fight that, in those big matches, you’re not going to give it up. One time, my neck was twisted all the way behind me and I saw a foot in the air, but I just kept wrestling. That’s just how wrestling goes.”
Missouri’s only quarterfinal loss was a junior 149-pounder Lavion Mayes’ 3-2 defeat against No. 11 seed Anthony Collica.
Meanwhile, sophomore 125-pounder Barlow McGhee and senior 174-pounder Blaise Butler each picked up two consolation wins and stand one match from rallying to become All-Americans.