Cyclones ready to ‘release the lion’


Photo: Tim Reuter/Iowa State Daily

Junior Jerome Ward takes down Northern Iowa’s Andy O’Loughlin on Friday, Feb. 4 in Hilton Coliseum. Ward won with a score of 12-3, and the Cyclones beat the Panthers with a score of 21-20.

Darrin Cline

2011 marks the 22nd-year Iowa State has hosted the Big 12 wrestling Championships. But this year’s tournament will see the Cyclones in an unfamiliar role: the ultimate underdogs.

Iowa State failed to win a dual in the Big 12 this season and comes into the tournament favored to win only one weight. Despite the team’s perceived expectations, Cyclone coach Kevin Jackson is confident in his team’s potential.

“You want to see your guys wrestle their best matches this time of year,” Jackson said. “I don’t think that changes whether you’re the favorites or the underdog.”

On paper, the only weight that looks to favor Iowa State is 174 pounds. At 32-0, Jon Reader has cleaned house in the weight class and hopes to take home a conference championship.

“You have to want it more than the guy across from you and that’s how I look at it every time I walk on the mat. I know I want it more,” Reader said, who has finished third, third and second in his three previous conference tournaments.

Oklahoma State closed out the regular season ranked No. 4 in the nation as a team, and the Cowboys boast seven grapplers ranked in the top 10, led by the undefeated duo of Clayton Foster and Jordan Oliver.

The defending champs may be positioned to win upwards of five individual titles, but no team is shying away from attempting to dethrone the kings.

“You walk into the Big 12’s and forget about the records,” Reader said. “You could draw the No. 1 seed in the first round but you just have to go out there and compete.”

Jackson said each of the five teams will be in contention and many weight classes pose a variety of upset scenarios.

“I think we have a chance to pose an upset at 133. He [Ben Cash] is going to have to wrestle his best match. At 184 we have the same thing,” Jackson said. “If they wrestle their best matches they give themselves an opportunity to go to the NCAA championships.”

While being champion is the goal, eight of the 10 weights will be alloted two or more NCAA qualifiers, with the exceptions being 149 and 157 pounds. The NCAA tournament consists of 33 wrestlers per weight bracket, with qualifiers coming from 11 conferences.

174 and 125 pounds will each recieve three bids. 133 pounds, 141 pounds, 184 pounds, 197 pounds and Heavyweight have all garnered four national bids. The Big 12 shows its true depth at 165 pounds where the conference collected five bids.

“There are some wildcards out there, but we want to earn our way in and not have to worry about wild cards,” Jackson said.

Iowa State’s attitude and grit could be the determining factor in Saturday’s outcome.

As Reader put it, “when it’s time to release the lion, we’ll release the lion.”