Tucked away on a quiet little campus in the heart of mid-Missouri is one of the best-kept sports secrets in the state. Few programs on any level in any sport can boast the success of the Missouri Valley College men’s wrestling program, especially the era from 1996 to 2005.

During that 10-year stretch of success, the Vikings dominated NAIA wrestling, winning three National Championships, finishing as runner-up four times, and producing 14 individual national champions. It’s that decade of dominance that makes the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proud to include Missouri Valley College Men’s Wrestling Era of 1996-2005 in its Class of 2023.

With the program still in its infancy, Missouri Valley and head coach Mike Machholz served notice early on that the Vikings intended to be a major player in the small college wrestling world. Valley’s four straight top 20 finishes in the program’s first four seasons (1992-95) included a total of 16 All-Americans.

Missouri Valley and Machholz first caught a glimpse of what could be when Steve Allen captured the program’s first individual national championship in 1994, as Allen took home top honors at 167 pounds.

“Missouri Valley was a place where I had the opportunity to achieve my wrestling goals,” Allen said. “I wanted to be an All-American and a national champion.”

Two years later when the ’96 team finally broke through with Valley’s first team national championship, the Vikings totaled eight All-Americans, and two national champions: Beau Vest, who clinched the team championship with a victory at 118 pounds, and Bobby Lashley at 177 pounds, the first of three straight titles for “The Almighty”.

Not content to have just one national crown, the Vikings went back-to-back in 1997, once again producing eight All-Americans. Lashley and Jon White (190 lbs.) each won individual championships.

Missouri Valley nearly made it a three-peat in 1998, but the Vikings finished second. Among its seven All-Americans were national champions Lashley, and Marcus Mainz.

It took five more years, but eventually Missouri Valley’s hand was raised as champion once again in 2003, as the program dominated the sport with a record 11 individual All-Americans. Among them was national champion Tyson Biddle (141 lbs.).

Other national champions during Valley’s impressive run include Jeremy Biddle (2000), Tim Cobb (2000), Matt Cobb (2001), and Wes Walker (2001).

While the team was enjoying its success, Machholz was there, leading the way.

Allen remembers Machholz as a coach who stood by his athletes even when they indulged a bit too much the night before a surprise weigh-in.

“Back in those days, you’d weigh in on Friday at home for a Saturday wrestling tournament,” Allen said. “So Wednesday was typically the night we all went out and had our fun. One Wednesday night we went to Warrensburg and cut loose and on the way home we ended up eating at Taco Bell.

“So Machholz announced the next morning at practice (Thursday) that we were weighing in a day early. I knew I was 13 pounds overweight, so I tried to sneak out of practice before it was over, and I started to go home. Here comes Machholz shouting at me asking where I was going. We started yelling back-and-forth at each other and next thing you know I’ve got my gear on, and I’m running around the track with a basketball and he’s right there running with me.”

Eventually, Allen had a successful weigh-in. But that moment is still with him all these years later.

“He wouldn’t quit on me,” Allen said. “He didn’t give me the easy way out. He stood by me. Anybody who knows Coach Machholz, that’s just him.”

The Vikings didn’t quit, either. Their three national championships are proof of that.

My memories of coach are very near and dear to my heart. I formed a relationship with coach that I cherish to this day. He stood by me through thick and thin, gave me an opportunity. He never quit on me when I gave him plenty of reasons to do so. He gave me an opportunity to be the first college graduate in my family.

During that time in that era was a pretty unique time for wrestling. It was a time when programs were getting cut or eliminated and Machholz was able to build a team and program that was very successful and gave a lot of recognition to the state of Missouri and the sport of wrestling. Coach started the first women’s program in the country.