Cyclone wrestlers secure four automatic bids for NCAAs

Photos from the finals of the Big 12 wrestling championships, held March 5 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. Jon Reader of Iowa State is the only Cyclone to win an individual title at 174 pounds, while Cyclone Jerome Ward finished second in the 197-pound weight class.

Jake Calhoun

In his final time on the mats of Hilton Coliseum, Jon Reader gave the crowd a show.

Reader, a senior from Davison, Mich., maintained his perfect season at 34-0 en route to winning his first-ever individual conference title at the Big 12 Championships, which were hosted by Iowa State.

“It hasn’t even really hit me yet,” Reader said of his last time wrestling in Hilton. “I love wrestling in this arena, and it’s a fun environment, especially being at home with all our fans, you could really feel them out there going point by point.”

Reader was also named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament.

Team-wise, the polarity of last season to this season was evident, as Iowa State went from being upset by Oklahoma State by one-and-a-half points to the bottom of the Big 12 barrel.

The Cyclones finished last in the team standings with 31 points, 15.5 away from fourth-place Nebraska, while earning only four automatic qualifying bids for the NCAA Championships in Philadelphia.

This year marks the first time since 2006 in which Iowa State has not qualified all 10 of its wrestlers, having been the only team in Division I to do so the past four years.

“It was a tough day,” said ISU coach Kevin Jackson. “When you look at the overall Big 12 tournament, I think our athletes wrestled better with the exception of 141.”

At 141 pounds, senior Chris Drouin started as the No. 3 seed and finished in fifth place, failing to secure one of the four automatic qualifier bids for that weight class after two losses knocked him out of contention.

Jerome Ward pulled off an upset in a 3-1 decision against Nebraska’s Andy Johnson in the semifinals at 197 pounds, avenging a previous loss to Johnson to earn his first-ever automatic qualifier bid for the NCAA Championships. The previous two years, Ward earned an at-large bid from the NCAA selection committee.

However, finally earning an automatic bid is not something Ward sees as worthy accolades or celebration.

“I don’t really see that as a big feat,” Ward said. “It’s what you do down there, because tons of guys get down there and not everyone can walk off even touching a podium.”

In the championship match at 197 pounds, Ward fought fatigue and lost as he failed to hand Oklahoma State’s Clayton Foster his first loss of the season in a 9-5 decision.

“It’s been our M.O. with Jerome,” Jackson said. “He’s capable of beating anyone in the country once he finds a way to lock in and decide that he’s going to compete to the best of his ability for seven minutes.”

Cole Shafer and Kyle Simonson earned their first NCAA bids after taking fourth place in their respective weight classes to earn their weights’ final bids.

Shafer, who went 9-15 during the regular season, pinned Missouri’s Mike Larson in 6:19 during the first round of the 184-pound bracket to advance. Despite suffering two close 3-1 losses to Oklahoma State’s Chris Perry and Oklahoma’s Erich Schmidtke following his pin, Shafer placed fourth since he had already beaten Larson, who lost again after their match.

Simonson avenged a loss to Oklahoma State’s Blake Rosholt, defeating the Cowboy grappler, 2-1. After losing 2-1 to top-seeded Dom Bradley of Missouri, Simonson forfeited the third-place match to Nebraska’s Tucker Lane, knowing he would already qualify having beaten Rosholt earlier.

The four Cyclones, including any others who might receive at-large bids from the NCAA, will be heading to Philadelphia for the NCAA Championships March 17-19.