Heskett writes new chapter in old book

Zac Reicks

ALBANY, N.Y. – The story was all too familiar for Joe Heskett.

Wrestle great all year, make your way to the Division I NCAA Wrestling Championship finals and lose a close, heartbreaking championship match that leaves you just short of your ultimate goal – an NCAA title.

Few wrestlers in the history of the NCAA tournament enter the final match of their career 142-9, and are without a national championship.

But as second ranked Matt Lackey of Illinois made a beautiful single-leg shot on Heskett with only 20 seconds left in a match that was even at 2-2, it looked as if the Cyclone senior would be settling for his third runner up finish in four years.

Those years, however, had taught Heskett something.

He stepped out of the takedown attempt, shot a double-leg of his own, and ended up scoring the winning takedown with only four seconds left in the third period of the 165-pound championship bout.

“I really thought I could get to his legs, but I just had to be patient,” Heskett said. “In my mind, I truly thought I could get a takedown with 20 seconds to go.”

The top-ranked Heskett defeated Lackey 4-2, to win his first ever championship and cap a brilliant career that included being a four-time All-American as well as a three-time Big 12 conference champion.

Coming into his final match, Heskett was making no excuses in why he hadn’t been able to win the big one.

“There’s no excuses for why I lost in the past. I got beat,” Heskett said. “Whatever the reason, whatever the situation, I got beat. Tomorrow will be my shot again. I’ve got to give 100, 100 and 100 percent.”

Give 100 percent is just what Heskett did as he made sure that Lackey could not avenge his only loss of the season.

A native of Coyoga Falls, Ohio, Heskett came to Iowa State at the same time Cael Sanderson did.

Both highly touted recruits out of high school, the Cyclone co-captains led Iowa State to a second place finish in the team standings of this year’s tournament with a combined record of 79-1 in their senior campaigns.

Known for his wide open style and ability to pin out of any position, Heskett provided ISU fans with four years of exceptional and exciting wrestling.

“My goal every time out is to pin my guy,” Heskett said.

The emotions that one feels after accomplishing a goal can range from relief to joy.

Heskett was fortunate in a way, because much of the media attention and pressure went to Sanderson while he was allowed to work toward his goal of winning a national title.

“I felt pure elation,” Heskett said. “There is no relief, this is what I expect, relief is a moot point. It’s all about winning the tournament. Nothing else was satisfactory.”

Wrestler’s know that a perfect match is never a possibility, so they conquer adversity in order to be tabbed successful. The coaches, fans and family are the people who are there along the way to help them achieve their goals.

“I just wanted to thank everybody,” Heskett said.

“It ends this way and it couldn’t be better. We’re up on Iowa and it’s taken me five years to beat them. My smile gets even bigger knowing that.”

Heskett’s smile was never as big as when his arm was finally lifted in victory after a hard fought finals win over Lackey.

He had dealt Lackey his only loss of the season earlier in the year, but it appeared that Lackey had other things in mind as he scored an early takedown to take a 2-0 lead on Heskett. Escapes by the lanky Cyclone senior tied the match at two, and set the stage for a heroic effort that cemented Heskett’s legacy.

The one knock against Heskett in the past was that he tended to become conservative in big matches. While Lackey’s strong defense had something to do with the low scoring match, it was Heskett’s strategy to play it safe to try to claim the win.

“I really had to pick and choose my shots,” Heskett said.

“I thought that was the safest way to go and the best bet for victory. It worked and I was able to get those very important two points.”

ISU head coach Bobby Douglas has witnessed all of Heskett’s triumphs and disappointments in his career, but knew he had put all of the tough losses behind him in order to prepare for this year’s tournament.

“He’s [Heskett] thought about all that and now he’s focused on one thing and one thing only, that’s the title,” Douglas said. “It’s his final year and he wants to go out on top.”

In any sport, an athlete wants to put a finishing touch on their career by going out a winner. John Elway suffered through disappointing setbacks again and again before getting his championships. Michael Jordan had to learn to conquer the Pistons and his own selfishness before he could taste victory.

Saturday it was Joe Heskett who had learned enough about himself in five years at Iowa State in order to do what it took to become a national champion. He finished third on the school’s career wins list with 143.

No win was more important than the last one however. That truly showed what kind of person Joe Heskett is, a champion.

Moving up the charts

Joe Heskett finished with 143 career wins, good for third on the ISU all-time list. Here’s a look at the top 10:

1. Cael Sanderson, 159 (1999-2002)

2. Mike Land, 150 (1975-79)

3. Joe Heskett, 143 (1999-2002)

4. Dwight Hinson, 141 (1995-98)

5. Chris Bono, 130 (1994-97)

6. Derek Mountsier, 128 (1993-96)

7. Eric Akin, 126 (1991-94)

8. Kelly Ward, 126 (1976-79)

9. Joe Giboons, 124 (1982-86)

10. Steve Hamilton, 123 (1982-92)