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 1996-2055 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 their 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).
Dr. Joe Parisi, Missouri Valley College President-elect and a former member of the wrestling team, remembers his time with Machholz and the team quite fondly.
“This era really built the foundation for Missouri Valley wrestling for years to come. But they not only built a foundation, they set a bar that most programs in any sport in any division across the country would be envious of.”
Aside from the success on the mat, Parisi says the bonds created are what he’ll remember most.
“There were so many special bonds that were there,” he said. “We always operated under the framework of ‘no weak links in the chain’. That was something that was very near and dear to all of us. Mike was so instrumental in so many different ways. This era set that tone.”
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.