Against last team to conquer MU wrestling, Tigers win 32nd straight dual
Brian Smith doesn’t have many losses to complain about in his 21 seasons atop the MU wrestling program. Perhaps that makes the few he has stand out a little bit more.
One thing’s for sure: Smith knows the worst match he has ever coached.
Feb. 12, 2017: 25-10, Northern Iowa.
“I mean, we got our butts kicked,” Smith said. “Just how physically we got beat that match. It was a big crowd here, it was to clinch the regular season championship – and we didn’t get that trophy.”
That is also the last time Missouri lost a dual meet. Smith spent the last week reminding his 2018-19 Tigers about it as they prepared to take on Northern Iowa again Thursday night.
“It was a wake-up call to our program,” Smith said. “That you can’t walk on the mat thinking you’re gonna win a dual just because you wear the black and gold.”
His message must have worked; the Tigers extended their win streak to 32 duals since that day with a 29-12 rout of Northern Iowa on Thursday. Missouri (12-0) was led by pins from John Erneste and Daniel Lewis and an upset decision by true freshman Brock Mauller.
“[Smith] said do what we do, we’re the better team,” Mauller said, “and we’ll win.”
Mauller stepped onto the mat with Missouri leading 9-3, bolstered by Erneste’s pin but narrowed by a rare loss for redshirt junior Jaydin Eierman.
Eierman, ranked No. 3 in the country at 141 pounds, led 3-2 against No. 9 Josh Alber deep into the final period after a go-ahead escape. But with the UNI conglomerate howling for a stalling penalty to be called against Eierman, Alber flipped the MU redshirt junior for a come-from-behind takedown with five seconds left and a 4-3 win.
“Jaydin didn’t wrestle last week; the flu bug’s been going around,” Smith said. “It just didn’t look like his stamina was back yet.”
This was Eierman’s second loss in his last three dual matches after having been unbeaten for the previous year and and change. But it would be the only blip for the Tigers in an otherwise dominant night.
Mauller nearly pinned All-American Max Thomsen at 149 pounds. The freshman settled for a four-point near-fall that highlighted an 8-3 decision against the No. 8 wrestler in the country at the weight class. True freshman Jarrett Jacques also shined with a major decision on two late takedowns.
“We’re having freshmen step up, and it’s just fun to watch,” Smith said. “I enjoy it, watching freshmen get better and more confident.”
Mauller and Jacques weren’t around to remember the Northern Iowa loss from two years ago. But veterans Erneste and Lewis, whose pins defined Thursday’s win, recall it almost as clearly as Smith does.
Erneste lost a decision against the same Alber who topped Eierman on Thursday.
“I know it was on Coach Smith’s mind,” Erneste said. “He was reminding us all week. I had a rough match that go.”
This time? A third-period pin for the 133-pound Erneste, putting the Tigers up 9-0.
Lewis had it even worse two years ago. A 165-pounder at the time, he was pinned by Bryce Steiert at a pivotal point in the meet.
“I didn’t even remind Daniel about that,” Smith said. “I could see it in Daniel’s eyes. He didn’t want to go through that again.”
Perhaps it was on Lewis’ mind Thursday, watching from the on-deck circle as Steiert won at Lewis’ old weight class to slice Missouri’s lead to 16-6.
The MU star is the No. 4 174-pounder in the nation now. His clash with No. 8 Taylor Lujan was set to be the marquee matchup of the night, but Lewis brought it to a swift end. He emphatically pinned Lujan a minute and 18 seconds into the match for a fall that widened the gap to 22-6 and effectively clinched win No. 32 in a row.
“Kind of like redemption,” Lewis said. “I know what I’m good at now. Consistency helps in all my matches.”
Before the meet, Lewis exited the tunnel accompanied by Luke Fortuna. Missouri has been injury-ridden at the 184-pound weight class, so if the meet was close enough by the point, Smith planned to reach deep into his bench and play Fortuna.
So before the meet, Smith scribbled down the number ‘16’ in his scouting notes. Only if the score was at that margin or greater would Smith forfeit the 184-pound class for six UNI points. Anything less than a pin by Lewis would keep the margin smaller than that. He didn’t disappoint.
“Exactly what we were at,” Smith said, laughing. “I’m not lying, it was 16 points. When he got that pin, the first thing I did was sprint back to Luke and say, ‘You’re not going.’”
A forfeit was a luxury Smith and his Tigers could afford this time against Northern Iowa. Now that’s redemption.
Supervising editor is Theo DeRosa: firstname.lastname@example.org, 882-5730.