WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Purdue wrestling team opens its dual schedule on Sunday, heading to Columbia, Mo. to take on the ninth-ranked Missouri Tigers at the Hearnes Center at 1 p.m. (CT). The Boilermakers have won back-to-back contests in the series which dates to 1966, and look for their second straight victory at Missouri this weekend.
Missouri earned the No. 9 spot in the first NWCA Coaches' Preseason Poll on the strength of their six ranked wrestlers in the lineup. Sophomore Alan Waters is the most highly-touted of the bunch, owning the No. 5 mark at 125 pounds, while senior Dorian Henderson is the nation's sixth-ranked grappler at 174 pounds. Junior Brent Hayes is No. 11 at 197 pounds, sophomores Kyle Bradley and Zach Toal are ranked 13th, respectively, at 149 and 165 pounds, and junior Nathan McCormick is tabbed 15th at 133 pounds. Junior Mike Larson has earned some national recognition as well at 184 pounds after 21 wins last season.
"Missouri is a very good team and a fantastic program. We'll have our work cut out for us this weekend," said Purdue head coach Scott Hinkel. "Coach (Brian) Smith has built a tremendous program out there and they have the national attention and respect that we want. We've been in this situation before, we just have to go out and take it from them."
Sunday will mark the third straight year the Boilermakers and Tigers have squared off in the early season, with Purdue scoring upsets in both contests. In strangely, matching fashion, the unranked Boilermakers traveled to Columbia in 2009, to pull off a 19-15 upset over the ninth-ranked Tigers, and Purdue followed with a second upset in 2010, as the No. 20 Boilermakers knocked off No. 16 Missouri, 18-15.
"We're not strangers to being underdogs with Missouri," said Hinkel. "We just have to go out and take it one match at a time."
This year's contest will be an even bigger challenge for the Old Gold and Black as they may be without standouts Cashé Quiroga and A.J. Kissel. Quiroga, the nation's No. 8 wrestler at 133 pounds, suffered an injury in the finals of the Eastern Michigan Open on Saturday and may not be ready to return, while Kissel, ranked 13th at 197 pounds, is coming off of shoulder surgery and continues to ease his way into the season. The good news is that both have more-than-able backups in senior Matt Fields and sophomore Justin Dinius. Fields is coming off a fourth-place effort at Eastern Michigan, where he joined the Boilermakers' all-time record list with his 13th career pin, while Dinius is anxious to get his season underway after sitting out last weekend's tournament.
Sophomores Camden Eppert and Kyle Mosier look to avenge losses from last year's dual against highly-touted opponents in Waters and Toal as Eppert suffered a 6-0 loss to Waters, while Mosier fell to Toal, 7-3. Purdue junior Jake Fleckenstein or freshman Brandon Nelsen will meet senior Brandon Wiest at 141 pounds in a pivotal bout, while 149 pounds features a pair of top-15 grapplers in ninth-ranked Boilermaker junior Ivan Lopouchanski and Bradley. Lopouchanski is coming off a tournament championship at Eastern Michigan, while Bradley was the Big 12 runner-up last season and a national qualifier.
Another interesting bout presents itself at 157 pounds as both wrestlers will see their first career dual action at the weight. Purdue junior Tommy Churchard opened his season 2-2 at Eastern Michigan, after moving up from 149 pounds, while Boilermaker freshman Pat Robinson was 3-2, taking fifth place. Missouri's Drake Houdashelt won 23 matches as an unattached wrestler last year, and looks to get his varsity career underway on Sunday.
Purdue freshman Drake Stein will don the Old Gold and Black for the first time in his career this weekend, after opening the season with a Frosh/Soph silver medal at Eastern Michigan in unattached fashion. He'll have a stout test to get things going with sixth-ranked Henderson, who looks to get his first win over a Boilermaker after losing four straight to Purdue standout Luke Manuel in the last two seasons. Another test awaits a Boilermaker rookie at 184 pounds, where Larson waits for freshman Braden Atwood. Atwood was 3-1 at Eastern Michigan last weekend, taking third place with a pair of falls.
The heavyweight matchup loses a little flair with Missouri's Dom Bradley taking an Olympic redshirt, but should still be a great battle between Purdue senior Roger Vukobratovich and Missouri freshman Devin Mellon. Vukobratovich was 3-2 at last weekend's tournament, with two close losses to highly-ranked opponents.
Those Boilermakers who don't compete in Columbia on Sunday may be seen in open tournament action at Michigan State on Saturday. Results of Saturday's tournament and Sunday's dual can be found at TrackWrestling.com. For a link to Sunday's action click here. The match will also be webcast live at ulive.cbssports.com.