As season comes to close, Missouri wrestling looks to future

The Tigers finished seventh in the NCAA tournament, but Missouri’s freshman stars shined bright in St. Louis.

No. 5 Missouri wrestling’s season ended with the Tigers finishing seventh in the NCAA Championships, but three individual performances stood out.

Three wrestlers — freshman Keegan O’Toole, freshman Rocky Elam and junior Brock Mauller — earned All-American honors and got spots on the podium. O’Toole finished third in his class, and Elam and Mauller finished fifth in their respective classes.

Individually, O’Toole’s third-place finish is the best finish by a Tiger freshman since J’den Cox won the national championship in 2014. He has impressed throughout the season, with his only loss coming in the national quarterfinal.

“Keegan shows a maturity level that’s probably up there as one of the tops in our program,” coach Brian Smith said. “He’s there in the All-American round, laughing … and that’s what makes him special.”

O’Toole was the No. 6 seed in his class. Coming into the tournament, he had high expectations for himself and the team.

“I’m not going to be satisfied with anything other than being on the top of the podium,” O’Toole said prior to the tournament. “I’ve been telling the coaches that every day ... Anything other than that gold medal isn’t going to be satisfying for me.”

The Tigers will return all 10 of their regular starters next season. With all 10 participants in the national tournament advancing at least to the second day and the team having strong depth, there’s reason to be excited about the future.

Missouri felt that the end result could have and should have been better. Elam and junior Jarrett Jacques both were upset in the first round of their respective tournaments, though they were able to make runs in the consolation brackets. While the Tigers placed three All-Americans, they hoped that they would finish higher as a team.

“We only have three All-Americans; we wanted more than that,” Smith said. “The watershed occurs now. You’re gonna kick yourself a little … [for] the matches we lost and maybe the mistakes we made, even as coaches.”

With the team being young, Smith feels the Tigers learned about composure in the tournament. With some of the wrestlers competing in their first NCAA tournament, Smith felt as though they gained more confidence as they went through the tournament.

“I think our young guys learned a lot about nerves,” Smith said. “You could just tell there was a lot of nervous tension and they gotta get through that. I was talking to my team doc saying that’s the one thing that he’s always concerned about with bringing a young team to the national tournament.”

The team finished with all 10 starters being ranked in their weight classes. Without any of those starters currently being seniors, they will be around to dictate the direction of the team.

“We have this same team together for a couple more years,” Smith said. “That [team] will have to think about this program and what it’s about, what it stands for.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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