Five to Watch for 2017
The calendar flips to 2017 over the weekend, not a moment to soon for Mizzou fans. We take a look at five Tiger athletes who could be poised for big things in the coming year.
J'Den Cox, Wrestling
Cox is already secure in his legacy no matter what happens in 2017. He will enter the year with a 117-5 career record that includes two individual national championships. He currently sits 10th on the school's all-time career wins list and also took home a bronze medal from the Rio Olympics last summer. But 2017 could be the stepping stone to a new level for Cox. He is working on an undefeated season so far. Should he complete that and win a third national title (and maybe even if he doesn't), he would go from one of the greatest athletes in Mizzou history to the greatest of all time.
Tanner Houck, Baseball
Just last week, Houck was named a pre-season third-team all-American. The junior pitcher posted a 2.99 ERA with 106 strikeouts and 27 walks in 105 innings a season ago. The first MLB.com Mock Draft has Houck going eighth overall to the Phillies in April. He will be the unquestioned horse of Steve Bieser's first staff at Mizzou and one of the big names to watch in college baseball this spring.
Parker Conrad, Softball
Missouri's top two pitchers from a year ago transferred out. The Tigers return Danielle Baumgartner, but Ehren Earleywine's best chance for a true ace may be Conrad, a true freshman from Winter Park, FL. Touting a fastball that is said to be able to reach 70 miles an hour (the equivalent of a 98 mph pitch in Major League Baseball), the Tigers will likely to look to Conrad to help rebuild their pitching staff. Mizzou softball fans have grown accustomed to being among the nation's best. The Tigers should be able to score some runs, but if the program is to stay at its lofty perch of recent seasons, a fast start to Conrad's career could be a big reason why.
Terry Beckner, Jr., Football
Beckner will be coming off a second consecutive major knee injury. But he was ready to go for the 2016 season after getting hurt in the next to last game of 2015, so it is expected he'll be a go for the season opener in 2017. Beckner has had a very productive career thus far in Columbia. But 2017 could be (and may need to be) the year he goes from good player to star for the Tigers. Missouri is short on defensive tackles and looking to return to a bowl game for the first time after two years at home for the holidays. The defense took major steps backwards in 2016. Beckner's play could be a big key to a bounce back both for the defense and the team as a whole.
Jim Sterk, Director of Athletics
We saved Sterk for last because he doesn't exactly fit in with the rest of our list here. But he is probably the most intriguing name included for 2017. Sterk was hired to replace Mack Rhoades on August 9, 2016. He has received high praise in his first four months on the job, first for kickstarting the football program's South End Zone facility project and second for not being Mack Rhoades (perhaps those reasons should be reversed). Sterk has cashed some impressive checks so far, but he is still a bit of a mystery to most Tiger fans. 2017 looks likely to bring his first major decision as Missouri could very well be in the market for a new basketball coach. That is one area that has flummoxed Sterk's predecessors. What will he do on that front and can Sterk rebuild the image and performance of an athletic department that has had two of its toughest years in a long, long time?