Intimidation does not often include a smile. But in J’Den Cox’s case the two go hand-in-hand. Cox, a 197-pound sophomore at Missouri, moved his win streak to 40 with a victory in the Tigers' dual win against Cornell on Sunday.
Cox, a national champion last March, rolled through quality opponents in winning the Southern Scuffle in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jan. 1-2 and is 20-0 entering this weekend’s matches with Central Michigan and North Carolina State.
“For me it’s about having fun,” said Cox, who was 205-3 in high school. “I am serious all week, working on my shots, practicing everything, doing homework, all that stuff; for me this is the fun time. It is how I prepare and this is the reward for all that work during the week. I love the sport, so when I am out there I want to enjoy myself.
“We have a team with different personalities, but we are working toward one big goal.”
After a runner-up finish at the Scuffle and the victory against Cornell, Missouri (13-0) enters this weekend ranked third behind Iowa and Minnesota.
“[Cox] is an amazing leader,” Missouri head coach Brian Smith said. “He does everything the right way; he sets an example with the way he carries himself.”
Seven Tigers are ranked in the top ten, with senior 125-pounder Alan Waters (20-0) joining Cox at the top of his weight class.
“We have a lot of leadership on this team,” Smith said. “It’s only January, and we should feel good about our performance [at the Scuffle]. But this team knows it’s just part of the process of working toward March.
“It’s a tough grind, but having someone like J’Den, working hard and having fun doing it, keeps everybody going.”
Builder of champions
That Maryville’s Saints won the NWCA Division II National Duals this past weekend is a surprise … to some. After all, the program in St. Louis came into existence barely three and a half years ago. But when considering the source, head coach Mike Denney, it's not a huge surprise.
Prior to being hired in June of 2011, Denney built Nebraska-Omaha into a D-II powerhouse. The Mavericks won six of eight NCAA D-II titles from 2004 to 2011, including three in a row from 2009 to 2011. UNO dropped wrestling following the 2011 season and Denney, now in his 36th year of coaching, found a home in St. Louis at a newly established program.
Maryville beat perennial power St. Cloud State in the semifinals and 2014 NCAA champion Notre Dame (Ohio) 16-15 in the championship dual at Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Saturday. Ryan Beltz and Donnell Walker won back-to-back matches to give the Saints the victory.
“It was a great team performance,” Denney said. “In that last dual, I’m so proud of them. I really appreciate Maryville giving us a chance to keep things going after what happened at the other place. I just want to congratulate our guys; I’m just glad they brought me along. We sometimes laugh that it’s been a delightful challenge to start all over. I have to thank Maryville for giving us the opportunity.”
The Division II national championships are March 13-14 in St. Louis.
Iowa, ranked No. 1 in the latest NWCA Poll, picked up a rare rout of rival Oklahoma State on Sunday. The Hawkeyes (12-0) beat the Cowboys 30-7. It was OSU’s largest margin of defeat since a 31-3 loss to Iowa in 1995. As good as the performance was, Iowa head coach Tom Brands and his squad feel they can still improve.
“You win eight matches in Stillwater, Oklahoma … that is something to build on,” said Brands, whose squad rallied to beat Ohio State two weekends ago and faces No. 11 Illinois Friday and finishes the month with a match against No. 2 Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Five of the ten weight classes feature Big Ten wrestlers at the top. Northwestern sophomore Jason Tsirtsis is 22-0 this season and 49-3 for his young career. The 2014 national champion at 149 pounds, Tsirtsis has won 38 consecutive matches dating back to this past January. Ohio State senior 141-pounder Logan Stieber picked up a pin in the Buckeyes’ win against Penn State on Sunday. The three-time NCAA champion Stieber is 13-0 this season and 103-3 for his career. Minnesota has a pair of top-ranked men in Dylan Ness (21-0 at 157) and Chris Dardanes (15-0 at 133).
Iowa 149-pounder Brandon Sorensen, a redshirt-freshman from Cedar Falls, Iowa, has back-to-back wins against All-Americans Hunter Stieber of Ohio State and Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State. Sorensen is 22-2 and ranked third.
Division III power Wartburg continues its reign, winning a fifth consecutive NWCA National Duals title last weekend. The Knights (11-1) host Luther on Friday; a win would be Wartburg’s 176th in a row against IIAC opponents.
Building off an NCAA quarterfinal appearance last March, Arizona State junior Blake Stauffer has raced to the top of the 184-pound rankings. Stauffer is 18-1 with a tournament title at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas in December.
Illinois redshirt freshman Isaiah Martinez is off to an 18-0 start at 157 pounds. From the same high school in Lemoore, California, as former NCAA champion Chris Pendleton, Martinez has 13 bonus point victories and won the prestigious Midlands Championship title in December.