On the heels of Valencia battle, Dylan Wisman looks to finish career strong

The confident 184-pounder bounced back from early-season losses to stand out in the twilight of his Missouri career.

Dylan Wisman stood up at the center of the mat and quickly shook the hand of Arizona State’s Zahid Valencia, the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 184 pounds. He walked back towards the Tigers’ bench to the sound of a Hearnes Center crowd roaring in approval, despite the ref having raised Valencia’s hand, not his.

Wisman — a respected grappler in his own right, ranked as high as No. 14 in the country at the beginning of the season — went toe-to-toe with Valencia for seven minutes and lost, 14-10. That result stuck with Missouri’s redshirt senior from Winchester, Virginia, much more than the standing ovation he received.

“It was cool and all, but I mean, I still lost,” Wisman said. “It’s nice to have a close match like that, but it’s still a loss. Kinda just put some fuel in the tank, realizing there’s little things I gotta get back in the room and start working on.”

While many wrestlers will work almost exclusively to defend when they face a top-ranked opponent, Wisman’s game plan couldn’t have been further from that. He was constantly attacking Valencia, draining the defending national champion’s energy and controlling the tempo of the match.

He also seemed to fluster Valencia, who was noticeably chippier than usual. The ASU redshirt senior won the match due to a run that began at the end of the second period and ended at the beginning of the third, but he didn’t do it without a significant fight.

“I could tell he was getting frustrated, so I just continued to stick with my game plan of riding him tough, making him work for every point,” Wisman said.

Wisman made it clear that he wasn’t intimidated whatsoever by Valencia’s ability or reputation. When he approaches matches like these, he treats them as if they’re any other bout.

“I really don’t care about what you’re ranked in the country or what people say about you,” Wisman said. “If someone has high expectations of someone else, well, I’m just gonna go out there and prove to you that that’s just what you think of someone.”

Close losses to top opponents have been a theme for Wisman in an up-and-down senior season. His ranking has dipped slightly from its mid-teens starting point, with most publications placing him in the twenties. Per wrestlestat.com, the seven wrestlers who have defeated Wisman this year make up an average ranking of 12.3. He has lost to each of the top three wrestlers in his weight class by a combined margin of 10.

Despite the defeats, Wisman’s strongest supporter is Tigers coach Brian Smith, who has called him out for positive reasons in two consecutive post-dual press conferences.

“He’s just putting it together with week after week after week of good practices, and that’s what it’s about,” Smith said. “The way he’s getting in the practice room and working the little details that he does right. His mindset is ‘I don’t care anymore; I’m going and competing hard.’”

That mindset translates to the Hearnes Center mat in the form of refusing to give up two points after failing on a shot, which was an example from the Valencia bout that Smith used. The coach of 21 years has also lauded Wisman for his attitude towards his time at Missouri nearing its conclusion.

“Sometimes as a senior, you get that urgency that this could be my last, this is my second-to-last match at home,” Smith said. “I wish more of our guys that are younger would wrestle with that.”

“It’s more so just making the most of every moment,” Wisman said. “I only get so many more practices in this room, and I only get one more chance at wrestling at Hearnes, so I’m just making the most of every opportunity and not holding anything back.”

That urgency will play well in an NCAA Tournament that a Wisman doesn’t just believe he can win, but expects to win. In fact, the losses to highly ranked opponents may prove to be beneficial come March, when Wisman will face many of those grapplers again. Valencia, in particular, is a likely opponent, and to say that Wisman is looking forward to a rematch with the top-ranked Sun Devil is a massive understatement.

“I pushed him the whole match,” Wisman said. “I wore him out, got him pretty tired. We’ll probably end up having to run into each other at the national tournament, and I think that’ll be something that’s in his mind, knowing that he doesn’t want to have to face me again.”

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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