6 ISU wrestlers head to the NCAA Championship

Redshirt sophomore Dane Pestano looks at West Virginia’s Jacob Scheffel to see how he can attack at the Big 12 Wrestling Championships in Kansas City on March 6. Pestano earned third place in the 184-pound weight class over the weekend.  

Brian Mozey

New York City can be viewed as a new beginning for most people in the United States. For six of the Iowa State wrestlers, Madison Square Garden is the end of a finish line to a wrestling season or career. 

Iowa State will be traveling to Madison Square Garden in New York City for the NCAA Wrestling Championships from March 17-19. Three of the wrestlers have had at least three years of experience in the championship, but for the other three, it’s a new adventure in their wrestling career. 

“I don’t know what to expect in New York,” said redshirt sophomore Dane Pestano. “All I know is that it’s going to be some tough competition and I can’t wait to get started.”

Pestano, along with redshirt junior Kyle Larson and sophomore Pat Downey, haven’t wrestled at the NCAA Championships, but are excited about the opportunity. The three are looking forward to being in the center floor of the Madison Square Garden and wrestling some of the biggest names in the sport. 

Larson and Downey automatically qualified for the NCAA Championship and Pestano was an at-large bid meaning the committee chose him to fill the last spots. Pestano doesn’t know what to expect regarding the tournament, so he’s relied on some help from the veterans. 

“Earl, Tanner and Lelund have been great on giving us some advice about controlling nerves and emotions throughout the couple of days,” Pestano said. “In the end, they can’t help with the wrestling, but it’s great to have support through the championships.”

Senior Earl Hall and redshirt junior Lelund Weatherspoon will be going to the NCAA Championships for the third straight year. Redshirt senior Tanner Weatherman will be entering into his fourth year at the tournament.

For Hall and Weatherman, this is an important championship because it’s their last wrestling opportunity in college as a Cyclone. For Weatherspoon, this is a chance to defend a title going into his senior year.

Weatherspoon is coming into the weekend as the Big 12 champion for the 174-pound class. Coach Kevin Jackson said that Weatherspoon’s championship has led him to more confidence and determination going into his final tournament of the season. 

“Every guy has been focused on themselves in the practice room and figuring out what they have to do to be a NCAA champion,” Hall said. “I just can’t wait to put on a show for the fans that come to this amazing venue in New York.”

Hall and Weatherman are the only seeded wrestlers from Iowa State, which surprised Jackson after brackets were released on March 9. He was surprised that Weatherspoon’s name wasn’t in a seeded position for the 174-pound class. 

Hall is seeded eighth, Weatherman is seeded ninth and Weatherspoon is unseeded and wrestling the second seed Brian Realbuto from Cornell in his first round match. Jackson didn’t quite understand. 

“I truly believe that anyone that becomes a Big 12 champion deserves a seed in the tournament,” Jackson said. “You have to beat everyone though, so you might as well start early and make some upsets.”

It still takes five matches to become a NCAA champion and Hall and Weatherman are ready to take in every match along the way. Hall said he knows what it takes to become a champion and just needs to stay focused along the entire bracket. 

“I hope to wrestle to my potential to end my college wrestling career and end as a champion,” Hall said. “I’m also going to take in the experience because I’m finishing my career at Madison Square Garden, that’s pretty sweet.”