J’den Cox became the first true freshman All-American in Missouri wrestling history Friday during the NCAA Division I wrestling championships at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
Now, Cox will bid to become the first true freshman to snag a national championship after reaching the 197-pound final with a 4-1 semifinals victory against Virginia Tech senior Chris Penny.
The second-seeded Cox, 37-2, is the Tigers’ first NCAA finalist since Max Askren won the 184-pound title in 2010 and will face No. 1 seed Nick Heflin of Ohio State in the championship bout.
“We’ve known all season what we’re working towards and all season we’ve pushed ourselves and strived to push each other to get to this point,” Cox said. “I’m blessed and grateful to have the coaching staff behind me to prepare me for this. Surprising is the wrong word, but proud is the right word.”
The finals begin at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Cox, who started Friday with a 5-1 quarterfinal win versus Duke’s Conner Hartmann, started down in the second period of a scoreless match against Penny and immediately took the lead with an escape and a takedown.
Penny escaped later in the period, but Cox rode him out in the third period for the win.
“His confidence has really grown and through this tournament we’ve known that when we get a takedown, we can ride everybody out,” Missouri coach Brian Smith.
Junior Drake Houdasehlt also reached the semifinals, but his title chase ended with a 2-1 sudden-victory loss against fifth-seeded Jason Tsirtsis of Northwestern, who escaped with 1 second remaining in the second overtime period.
“It’s real tough, because we had an opportunity,” Smith said. “But I know Drake and he’s focused on getting two wins (Saturday) and finishing third.”
Houdashelt, 37-2 and the No. 1 seed, started Friday with a 3-1 decision against Michigan’s Eric Grajales, the No. 9 seed.
Meanwhile, freshman Joey LaVallee, the No. 14 seed at 157, came up one match shy of being an All-American.
He started Friday with a 22-7 technical fall against Edinboro’s Johnny Greisheimer and later stayed alive with a 14-4 major decision against Army’s Paul Hancock.
But top-seeded James Green of Nebraska ended his run with a 12-2 major decision.
At 141, redshirt freshman Lavion Mayes picked up his second win on the consolation side with a 9-5 decision against Lehigh’s Laike Gardner before bowing out in a 6-2 loss against No.8 seed Luke Vaith of Hofstra.
Finally, freshman 133-pounder Matt Manley’s national tournament ended in the consolation second round with a 3-0 loss against No. 15 seed Mark Grey of Cornell.