Photo: Logan Riely
Photo: Logan Riely

Missouri Tigers are Ohio Wrestling’s Next Test

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After two weekends free of competition, Ohio Bobcats wrestling is eager to get back to competition on the mat. The ‘Cats get that opportunity on Sunday when they travel to Columbia, Missouri, to take on the Missouri Tigers.

“I think we are hungry and tired of practicing,” Ohio head coach Joel Greenlee said.

The dual meet will be Ohio’s first Mid-American Conference matchup of the season, and it comes against a tough Tigers team that is ranked 11th in the nation by InterMat. The reigning MAC Champions and fourth-place finishers at the 2015 NCAA Championships boast eight ranked wrestlers in their lineup.

Ohio is ranked 17th nationally, and MAC coaches picked the Bobcats to finish second in the conference behind Missouri. If Ohio is going to exceed expectations, dethrone the Tigers and claim its first MAC Championship since 2001, the Bobcats know Sunday’s meet is a chance to take a big step forward in that direction.

“We want to go in there and impose our will on them,” Ohio 197-pounder Phil Wellington said about taking on the Tigers. “They are our first MAC dual and we want to be MAC Champs.” Greenlee thinks the upcoming dual is a good test for his team—a measure to help him gauge his team’s success and progress.

Last season in Athens, the Tigers defeated an Ohio lineup dealing with several injuries. Missouri led 25-6 through eight matches, and with a victory clinched, the Tigers forfeited their last two matches to win 25-18.

In 2013, the Bobcats’ last trip to Columbia, Ohio took three matches from Missouri, but fell 23-10. In a 6-4 decision, Wellington handed then-freshman J’den Cox his first college loss. Cox went on to win a national championship that season, and since that loss he has beaten Wellington twice at the MAC Championships.

The two 197-pounders didn’t face-off in last year’s dual, but in his second trip to Missouri, Wellington is hoping to repeat his 2013 showing in front of the Tiger faithful.

I know what it takes to beat him, so I’m going to have to focus on what I do and do it well,” Wellington said. “He’s going to be very defensive. And I just have to focus on making deliberate shot attempts.”

Wellington is currently ranked 13th, while Cox sits at second.

The meet will feature at least one more showdown between ranked grapplers. At 174 pounds, Ohio’s No. 6 Cody Walters takes on Missouri’s No. 9 Blaise Butler. In the 157-pound bout, the Bobcats’ 19th-ranked Sparty Chino could take on ninth-ranked Joey Lavallee, but the Tigers have wrestled several wrestlers in that spot this season.

The ‘Cats get their shot to make statement in the MAC from Missouri’s Hearnes Center at 1 p.m.