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No. 3 Missouri wrestling has a chance to start its season 5-0 as it faces No. 17 Northern Iowa and No. 10 Virginia Tech on Saturday at the Hearnes Center.

It's Missouri's first chance to wrestle ranked programs this season. Its dual against Virginia Tech will also be the highest-ranked dual at Hearnes since 2019, when then-No. 5 Missouri faced No. 2 Oklahoma State.

Missouri coach Brian Smith said he wanted Missouri (3-0, 3-0 Big 12) to get as many chances as possible to wrestle against ranked programs this season and this'll be its first chance to do so.

"One of the big complaints of being in the MAC conference was that most of our matches were 30 something to whatever," he said. "It's definitely going to be a higher level competition on Saturday with the intensity. And a lot of the matchups are going to be like quarter and semi-final matches at the NCAA meet."

One of the Missouri wrestlers who'll have no lack of competition on Saturday is redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Kent. Kent, who is No. 10 in the 184-pound weight class, will face two All-Americans in Northern Iowa's No. 4 Parker Keckeisen and Virginia Tech's No. 9 Hunter Bolen. 

"It's one of my first big opportunities to go out there and prove myself," Kent said. "I don't necessarily look at the rankings, I look at it as I'm out there with another guy. And I'm gonna fight like hell."

Northern Iowa (0-0) will be wrestling in its first duals of the season. It's the first time that the two teams face off as in-conference opponents since Northern Iowa left the MAC to join the Big 12 prior to the 2016-17 season. The two teams wrestled last season, when Missouri beat Northern Iowa 34-6. Along with Keckeisen, Northern Iowa brings six other NCAA qualifiers from last season.

Along with Bolen, Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-0 ACC) have six other NCAA qualifiers and two All-Americans from last season. They also have Mekhi Lewis, who was the national champion in the 165-pound weight class in 2019. He comes into the tri-dual ranked No. 4 in the 174-pound weight class. 

"I wanted to make our schedule so it prepares our guys for the NCAA meet," Smith said. "So when they're wrestling in the early rounds of the NCAA, they've wrestled some of the best in the country already and they're not wowed by it. They'll know we can compete with these people."

This article originally ran on columbiamissourian.com.

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