5 takeaways from the NCAA tournament

Coach Kevin Jackson tells sophmore Pat Downey some advice during his match on March 6 at the Big 12 Championships. Jackson led Iowa State to a third place finish as a team during the weekend. 

Ben Visser

The NCAA Wrestling Championships were held in Madison Square Garden in New York City, the biggest stage in all of sports. The Championships took place Thursday, March 17-19.

ISU wrestling finished in 12th place with three All-Americans. Here are the five biggest takeaways from the event.

Madison Square Garden

Wrestling is widely seen as a Midwestern sport with historic programs like Iowa, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Penn State dominating year in and year out. Therefore Midwestern cities like Des Moines and St. Louis usually play host to the Championships to draw a strong crowd.

However, for the first time ever Madison Square Garden hosted the NCAA Wrestling Championships. They sold out all three days.

“It was great,” said coach Kevin Jackson. “I think Angel Escobedo said we should have it there every four years. But the attention that wrestling garnered from being in New York [was great.]

“It was truly exciting from the first round to the last round.”

Senior Earl Hall said he loved the atmosphere Madison Square Garden provided.

Top-15 finish

ISU wrestling faced a lot of adversity this season. Whether it was an injury to a top guy, or guys not performing to their potential.

Even though it wasn’t an easy season for Jackson, his team peaked at the right time finishing in 12th place with 35 team points. They finished ahead of Oklahoma, Minnesota and Arizona State, all of whom beat Iowa State earlier in the year.

“I feel good about beating the teams that beat us during the year,” Jackson said. “We beat them at the most important time of the year. We probably lost an opportunity to get top-10 if we have Gabe [Moreno] in there and if we have Quean [Smith] in there”

Iowa State only had two seeded wrestlers heading into the tournament. However, three wrestlers walked away with All-American status and another losing in the round of 12.

Tanner Weatherman

Iowa State’s senior leader and 165-pound wrestler Tanner Weatherman finishes his career at Iowa State without ever making it onto the podium at the NCAA Championships.

Weatherman is a three-time Big 12 runner-up and now he’s lost three times in the round of 12 at the NCAA Championships– one match short of achieving All-American status.

“It breaks my heart,” Jackson said. “It breaks my heart that he’s been so close, and realistically he should probably be a three time All-American.

“We just thought he deserved it based on all his hard work and his effort and his energy and his leadership in our program. He deserved to walk away from this sport feeling good about being an All-American at the NCAA level.”

Coming so close so many times is tough for a coach and especially a wrestler.

“[Wrestling] can’t promise you championships, but it can promise you heartache and pain,” Jackson said. “That’s one thing wrestling will provide, one way or another. We are in a heartache situation for Tanner, but he’s holding his head up high and saying the right things to move forward with his life. Which is going to be very successful.”

Hall echoed Jackson’s thoughts on the No. 9 seeded wrestler.

“Honestly, my hearts with Tanner,” Hall said. “I love Tanner, I love to watch him wrestle. I wish he could have got on the podium– in the top three. He’s top three in my mind, honestly.”

Earl Hall

Hall came into the NCAA Championships as the No. 8 seed, the best seed of any Cyclone. He won his first two matches convincingly and in his third match he wrestled No. 1 seed Nahshon Garrett of Cornell.

Early in the match Garrett went for a takedown. What he found was lotion on Hall’s legs.

“Before everything [started] they said, because I had on lotion, I was trying to cheat and the [Cornell] coaches looked at me like I was some type of devil or something,” Hall said. “Nahshon puts on lotion, I’m pretty sure everyone puts on lotion, so that kind of through me off a little bit. Other than that I didn’t wrestle my match, I didn’t attack, I didn’t do anything. I was so lost in the moment I kind of had a brain fart.”

Hall bounced back from that match finishing 7th and won his final match as a Cyclone 17-1 technical fall in the first period. He will continue to wrestle at the World level.

Jackson is proud of how far Hall is come on the mat, but even more proud of how far he’s come off the mat.

“His growth and maturity in the classroom, academically, socially and just becoming a man [is what I’m proud of],” Jackson said. “I can look at his results and say, ‘We didn’t reach our potential there, we didn’t wrestle to our full ability.’ But as a young man, growing into a man, he has reached his full abilities and his full potential.”

Lelund Weatherspoon and Pat Downey

Both Lelund Weatherspoon and Pat Downey reached All-American status as unseeded wrestlers for the Cyclones.

Weatherspoon upset No. 2 seed Brian Realbuto of Cornell in his first match and rode that momentum all the way to the semifinals, where he eventually lost. After Weatherspoon lost in the semifinals he failed to win another match and placed 6th.

“He did some things right, he defended well, he rode hard, he looked to turn guys and he competed for seven minutes,” Jackson said. “After he made the semifinals, I don’t think we got the same guy.”

Weatherspoon was the only unseeded wrestler to make it to the semifinals in the whole tournament, not just the 174-pound class. Hall said Weatherspoon will bounce back from this and finish at the top of the podium.

“He has a bright future,” Hall said. “I can’t wait to watch him win it next year. I’m serious about that, I believe he will win it next year.”

Pat Downey went from the No. 9 seed at 197 pounds in the Big 12 Championships to finishing fifth overall at the NCAAs. Downey came into the program at the beginning of the spring semester so he didn’t have a lot of matches under his belt.

“Pat, he wrestled hard and competed well every single match,” Jackson said. “I think Pat really showed how competitive he is, pinning the same guy twice. Seeing him go from the ninth seed to fifth in the country is pretty exciting.”