Cyclone senior wrestlers eyeing NCAAs

Sarah Wolf

Even though Sunday’s wrestling meet against Northern Iowa was the last regular-season dual for four Iowa State starters, none of them are dwelling on it.

“The crowd was fun, and it’s been a great five years, but I’ve still got one thing left to be,” said Chris Bono, ISU’s 150-pounder and a returning national champion.

His final goal, of course, is to repeat as top dog, and he said that he is confident that he can do it. “I’m in the best shape I’ve been in all my five years,” Bono said.

He will most likely encounter stiff competition at the NCAA tournament in Cedar Falls in late March, including top-ranked Lincoln McIlravy of Iowa, who has two titles under his belt.

Barry Weldon, too, is looking forward to the championships next month. He is ranked first in the nation at 177 pounds.

“I’m pretty confident,” Weldon said.

“I know I’ve got one top-rated guy, Mark Smith of Oklahoma, in my weight class. I think I just need a little bit more conditioning. I haven’t been wrestling that hard because I’ve had some injuries.”

Weldon’s ankle and leg are bruised from a harsh shot he made a little while ago. “As long as I’m on the offensive and I don’t let anybody get any shots and get a hold of it, I’m fine,” he said.

Two other senior starters, John DeLeon at 158 pounds and Bart Horton at 167, are also looking ahead to the Big 12 tourney in Columbia, Mo., and NCAAs. DeLeon said that he hopes he can qualify to go to Cedar Falls, and he knows that the team as a whole will do well.

Horton is also psyching up for the keen competition. “I’m just gonna go in there and load it up and give it all I got,” he said. “It’s just a matter of hitting another peak in a couple weeks.”

Horton has aspirations of being an All-American, a status that is awarded to the top eight NCAA finishers in each weight class.

Although the upcoming tournaments are keeping the entire team pretty occupied, these four men have an entirely new world opening up to them very soon.

DeLeon, for one, plans to graduate in December with a degree in mechanical engineering, a field which has kept him on his toes during his tenure at ISU.

Although he said that in the future he’ll probably have to put on a suit and tie to go to work, his heart will always remain close to the mat.

“I don’t think there’s any way I can get away from wrestling. In 10 years or whatever, I’ll still be involved, maybe not as a competitor, but maybe as a coach or an assistant.

“It’s a part of you; you can’t get away from it.”

Weldon agrees, and he wants very much to be able to continue his practice. He is supposed to graduate in December with a degree in botany, but he wants to remain at Iowa State for a little while longer as a grad student.

“If I were able to stay here and stay in school, that would give me the opportunity to continue training,” he said. “I hope to be in school.”

Horton, though, doesn’t want to extend his education. He graduates in December too, in community and environmental planning, but he said he doesn’t want to go into that field.

Instead, he might take the same road as his father, Thomas, who coached him at Wahlert High School in Dubuque.

“I’d probably like to get into coaching for a few years, either high school or college,” he said. “It’d be hard to go to an office job everyday. It’d be hard to get into that.”

Before he has to worry about it, though, Horton would like to wrestle beyond the college level.

“I enjoy freestyling; it’s not as grueling,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll do some competing after college. After being out of it for a while, I know I’ll want to come back.”

Weldon isn’t planning on hanging up his headgear yet either. He dreams of going to the Olympics.

“That’s the pinnacle, the highest you can go, but that’s [three] more years,” he said. “There are other things I can do before then: worlds and nationals, not in college, but competing against others in freestyle.”

DeLeon has also had visions of gold medals and the apex of amateur achievement in wrestling; his appetite for competing in the Olympics was whetted last year when his family went to Atlanta to check out the action on the mat.

“It has crossed my mind a number of times,” he said. “It’s a dream of mine, and it’s something I’ll have to work toward.”

Fortunately, none of these athletes is a stranger to hard work or achievement. At Sunday’s dual, they each walked off the mat a winner , for the last time on Iowa State home turf, and greeted the crowd with a friendly wave. For Weldon, the finality of the meet was not foremost on his mind.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Weldon said. “I know this is the last one, but I don’t really know what it’s like to not wrestle here. I’m sure I’ll look back and miss it.”

DeLeon said that he “had a little problem getting focused” upon hearing the news of Harold Nichols’ death. Nichols coached Iowa State wrestling from 1954-85 and put the program on the map. Still, DeLeon came up with the 5-2 decision. Horton, in typical fashion, got everyone’s hearts racing.

He scored a takedown in the first period and held his opponent in a 30-second near-fall until time ran out. Though he didn’t score the fall, he wasn’t totally disappointed.

“I think I gave everyone an exciting match, but I was hoping for the pin,” he said. “I thought I had it. But it was a good test for me. I didn’t get the pin, I got some questionable back points against me, but I still won.”

Along with their victories and training, all of these athletes will take away a lot from Iowa State. Weldon said that ISU worked out for him because of his flexibility.

“It’s important to find a place where you fit in, that you can adapt to,” he said. “I’ve been able to do that really well, and that in turn has made it easy to wrestle here.”

The Big 12 tournament will be in Columbia, Mo., on March 8; the NCAA Championships are the weekend of March 20-22 in Cedar Falls.