Hall, Weatherman prepare for Big 12 Championships

Earl Hall, senior, defeated his opponent from Central Michigan 6-2 on Jan. 31. ISU won 25-12.

Ben Visser

Earl Hall’s room is littered with pictures: pictures of the potential future opponents he could face in the Big 12 Championships and the NCAA Championships.

The 133-pound senior looks at the pictures and visualizes the match he could have against them in Sprint Center, as the ISU wrestling team prepares to travel to the Big 12 Championships in Kansas City, Mo., this weekend.

He even has dreams about the matches.

“Most of the time I have dreams of the matches when I take naps or at night before bed,” Hall said. “I just see every match playing out. I see me dominating every time. And with the work I’ve been putting in, I really feel like it could happen.

“I can’t wait for it.”

This is the last opportunity for Hall and fellow senior 165-pounder Tanner Weatherman to stand alone, at the top of the podium at the Big 12 Championships.

The Big 12 added six schools for wrestling to the original four schools, making the Big 12 Championships an automatic qualifying tournament for the NCAA Championships. Instead of being a six-hour, one-day event, the Big 12 Championships consists of two full days of wrestling.

“In the past two years, it’s been two matches,” Weatherman said. “If you win your first one, you’re basically in the finals. It’s hard to take a format like that serious. [Now] you have 10 teams and a lot of good kids. The other format, it’s just four guys, so it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.”

To prepare for the tournament, ISU coach Kevin Jackson decided to shorten the practices, but he raised the intensity. He’s demanded maximum effort from his wrestlers — from the freshmen all the way up to Hall and Weatherman.

“I expect Tanner and Earl to wrestle their very, very best,” Jackson said. “They both have national champions they would have to upset to win the Big 12 Championship, but they’re excited about it. They’re up for it.

“They’ve had good years, but they haven’t had their best match yet. They’re looking for their best match, at the right time.”

Hall will likely have to wrestle defending national champion Cody Brewer of Oklahoma in the finals. In their first-ever meeting, Hall pinned Brewer, but Brewer has beaten Hall the last three times they’ve wrestled, including twice this year.

Hall has a picture of Brewer in his room — he’s not shying away from Brewer.

“It’s honestly killing me right now,” Hall said. “I know I have to wrestle one match at a time, but when that match presents itself, I know I have to go in there with that same intensity that I had when I pinned [Brewer].”

Weatherman has the challenge of wrestling two-time national champion and No. 1 ranked Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State. Weatherman wrestled Dieringer for the first time this year, losing by major decision, 15-4.

“[My goal is] not just to knock off the No. 1 guy, but every guy,” Weatherman said. “Trying to go out, force my style a little bit, not taking a backseat. It’s always in the back of your mind, to beat the No. 1 guy and two-time national champion.”

The Big 12 Championships and NCAA Championships will be Weatherman’s last two tournaments of his wrestling career.

Weatherman said he couldn’t explain the feeling of knowing his collegiate wrestling career is coming to a close. If he loses early this year, there is no next year.

“I would always be frustrated, mad, upset, sad when [losing] hits, but then it was always like, let’s just get it next year,” Weatherman said. “Let’s just put more wood on the fire and get back to work as soon as we get back to Ames. I always got next year, I always got next year. This case, I don’t.”

Jackson said the team is preparing for every possible situation in practice like having to ride a guy out to get the win or having to get a takedown in the last 30, 15 or 10 seconds — the high-intensity situations.

The coaches are hammering those scenarios, so when they inevitably hit in the Big 12 Championships, their guys will be thinking clearly on what they need to do.

“It’s the Big 12 Championship,” Jackson said. “Qualifying spots are on the line, [and] Big 12 Championships are on the line. We want to be at our best during this time of year. This is going to be an opportunity to wrestle your best when it really, really matters.”

Hall is ready to lead the team into the Sprint Center.

“It’s not even nervous,” Hall said. “It’s not even pressure or anything. I just feel more anxious to go wrestle. [I’m] anxious to get into the building and look around, fire my team up and compete to the best of my ability. Give it my all. I know it’s my last chance.

“It’s now or never.”