Tears are like losses in the Cox family — very seldom seen. But the emotions on the day that marked the end to the chapter Cathy Cox has lived, loved and likened to somewhat of a dream simply became too much.
“It keeps going through my mind, where has the time gone?” Cathy Cox said beneath a beam of sunlight nearly eight hours before her son, J’den, took college wrestling’s biggest stage for the final time at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for the NCAA wrestling championships. “Four years — literally — you blink and it’s gone.”
But the memories will never vanish and with the senior in J’den Cox, there are quite a few of them in the bank. Add Saturday’s performance to said bank.
In front of 19,657 fans, Cox became the first Missouri athlete and first Missouri wrestler to win three national championships by knocking off Minnesota senior Brett Pfarr at 197 pounds, 8-2. With the win, Cox also became the second Tiger ever to secure an undefeated season. Cox finished the season 28-0.
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Said Cathy: “It’s icing on the cake.”
J’den was of course happy as well.
“I’m honored to have accomplished another great feat — not only for myself, but for my school, for my teammates, for my family,” Cox said. “I’m very proud of the way I’ve represented every one of those throughout my years.”
Compared to previous NCAA titles that he won both last year and in his freshman year, Cox said the third was more emotional, which was apparent as he lied on the mat with his hands over his eyes post-victory.
“This year was emotional because there was a lot of things that rode on it,” Cox said. “... There was just such an emotional ride with the great tournament that my teammates wrestled.”
Yes, Saturday night revolved around the Tiger who grazed the front pages of magazines preseason and led the commercial for the championships on ESPN ahead of championships, but Cox wasn’t the sole reason Missouri walked away with a fifth-place team finish, just a spot outside of a team trophy.
Thanks to a 7-0 performance in Friday night’s session, Missouri boasted three wrestlers in the finals. Not to mention, Missouri freshman 141-pounder Jaydin Eierman and sophomore 165-pounder Daniel Lewis also garnered All-American honors over the weekend placing fifth and sixth, respectively.
Still, Missouri coach Brian Smith said “it was frustrating.”
“If you had told me (we) had three in the finals and five All-Americans, I would’ve told you we were going to bring a team trophy,” Smith said.
Cox was the first Tiger out of the tunnel to wrestle in prime time, yet he wasn’t the sole senior. Missouri senior 149-pounder Lavion Mayes also had the privilege of intro music, smoke and a formal announcement.
Over the course of their careers, Cox and Mayes tallied seven All-America honors and have the best combined winning percentage of any pair of Tigers in school history. A final provided the program’s first opportunity to have multiple NCAA champions in one year, yet Penn State junior Zain Retherford proved too much for Mayes, whose season ended with a record of 23-3.
Retherford won by technical fall, which paved the way for fellow Nittany Lion in sophomore Jason Nolf against Missouri junior 157-pounder Joey Lavallee.
Lavallee suffered a 14-6 loss in which he could never get things going. Lavallee finished the season 29-2.
For Cox, being tasked to face Pfarr was a quite familiar one. The two met earlier this year on Jan. 2. Cox won that one, 6-4, and made adjustments that propelled him to his knees and to the podium on Saturday after coming out to a standing ovation while the song “Coming Home” played.
“I did it. I did it,” were Cox’s thoughts afterward, he said, “and I pushed through everything to get here. And that’s the best feeling.”
Ben Askren knows a little something about that feeling. The former Missouri Tiger won national wrestling titles back in 2006 and 2007, and he attended the NCAA’s on Friday. Speaking then, he said to see Cox win a third would make him “extremely happy.”
“He’s had an amazing career,” Askren said. “He left an amazing legacy at Missouri and helped continue drive the program to new heights.”
Early Saturday, Cathy Cox used “when” to reference her son’s third national championship, not if. It was the expectation, as were the tears and hugs that came later in the night.
Cathy and J’den only spoke once over the course of the weekend — on Thursday — and Cathy said her son was “very relaxed.” She did, though, ask for a kiss after he gave both his brother and uncle a hug.
He jokingly declined.
“It was just total J’den,” Cathy said with a laugh.
So, too, though, was the Olympic bronze medalist’s final showing in black and gold.