KENT, Ohio - The Missouri wrestling team pulled off its three-peat, but the Tigers had to come from behind to do it.
Missouri won a Mid-American Conference championship for a second straight year in its second season in the league, that coming off a Big 12 title.
The Tigers needed every one of their 118.5 team points, as Northern Iowa had 116 to finish second. The rest of the nine-team field included Old Dominion (97), Ohio (94.5), Central Michigan (85.5), Kent State (67), Eastern Michigan (57.5), Northern Illinois (50) and Buffalo (12.5).
Missouri placed all 10 wrestlers in the top six, and had individual champions in Drake Houdashelt (149 pounds) and J'den Cox (197). Seven Tigers qualified for the NCAAChampionships to be held March 20-22 in Oklahoma City.
"I'm really proud of the way this team kept fighting," Missouri head coach Brian Smith said. "To have five freshman in the lineup and to keep competing at a high level really shows our maturity as a program. I'm shocked, but I shouldn't be. We believe in this team. They showed everyone why today."
After Barlow McGhee (125) and Matt Manley (133) both went 1-3 and finished sixth, Lavion Mayes (141) went 2-2 and finished fourth to become an automatic qualifer for nationals.
Drake Houdashelt (149) then got things rolling by finishing a 3-0 event as a champion and an automatic qualifier. After two major decisions, he beat Old Dominion's Alex Richardson 3-1 in overtime in the final, getting a takedown with 16 seconds left in the sudden victory period.
But Northern Iowa still had a comfortable team lead at that point. The Tigers started to make up the gap by winning placement matches at 157, 174 and 184 with bonus points.
At 157, Joey Lavallee capped off his 3-1 tournament by taking the third-place match with a pin for bonus points. He is an automatic qualifier for nationals.
After Zach Toal became another automatic qualifier by going 4-1 and taking third at 165, Missouri's Mikey England pinned Caleb Marsh from Kent State in the fifth-place match at 174 for more bonus points. England ended up 3-2 and became an automatic qualifier, but just as important, the Tigers were now within striking distance of the team title.
"I honestly thought we were out of the team race after the first few weight classes," Smith said. "We started to focus on getting guys to qualify for NCAAs, and we really thought it was over. But they never stopped battling."
Down two team points to Northern Iowa at that point, Cody Johnston took the mat against Ryan Garringer of Ohio in the fifth-place match at 184. While Johnston won by tech fall, on the adjacent mat, Northern Iowa's All-American Ryan Loder lost to Old Dominion's Jack Dechow in sudden victory in the 184-pound championship. That gave Missouri a 115.5-114 lead against Northern Iowa, the Tigers' first lead of the tournament.
J'den Cox's major decision in the title match at 197 against Ohio's Phil Wellington clinched the title. Cox dominated Wellington 10-1 to avenge his lone MAC loss suffered in December, and his major decision gave Missouri an extra team point to seal it.
Cox went 3-0 on the weekend, winning by tech fall and two major decisions, to earn the freshman the tourney's "Most Outstanding Wrestler" award.
Heavyweight Devin Mellon would then become Missouri's final automatic qualifier despite finishing second with a 7-1 loss to Ohio's Jeremy Johnson.
The three other Tigers who were not automatic qualifiers still have a shot to get a wild-card bid for the championships.Those will be announced later this week by the NCAA.