AMES — Each time a referee raises Earl Hall’s hand in victory, the Iowa State senior wrestler swells with pride. In these frequent moments, the standout 133-pounder feels that all his hard work has paid off. It shows he is better than his opponent. Not only that, it signals he is one step closer to fulfilling his sweat-soaked dream:
Becoming a national champion.
When the NCAA Championships arrived last March, Hall didn’t have his hand raised to end his season. His hand hung low, along with his head, as he walked off the floor of the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Hall said, the hurt evident in his voice.
Last season, Hall qualified for the NCAA Championships with a record of 27-8, which earned him a No. 6 seed. He started his quest for a national title with two straight victories, but then Hall met a brick wall in the quarterfinals.
Hall lost that match to heated intrastate rival Cory Clark of Iowa, 7-1. He would ultimately be eliminated from the tournament by Lehigh’s Mason Beckman by a 5-2 decision in wrestlebacks. Hall would make it all the way to the round of 12, but his hand wasn’t raised when it counted the most — unlike the previous March, when he earned All-American honors at 125.
“I remember walking off the mat feeling broken inside,” Hall said.
The memory of losing in the round of 12 still creeps into his mind. Since walking off that mat last spring, Hall has overcome some gloomy days during the offseason.
“It is always in the back of my mind,” Hall said. “When I reflect back on it, it brings me to tears. But I know I have to keep on fighting and keep on working to ensure I never feel that pain again.”
So he works. Hall put in countless hours of training this offseason. Whenever he felt tired, he told himself to keep fighting through the pain. Hall said he’s done a lot more running than mat work in the offseason, which has allowed him to be healthy for the first part of the 2015-16 season. It also helped him lean up a bit more. When hitting the weights, Hall comes in with the hungry and humble mindset that he is the worst wrestler in the nation and uses it as motivation to work even harder.
“It is good to have that sort of mindset,” Hall said. “Because if you don’t, you are not pushing yourself to be the best.”
To go along with his offseason training, Hall participated in the 2015 University Nationals freestyle event held in Akron, Ohio last May. The training for the trip paid off. Hall claimed the 134 title when he defeated Michigan’s Rossi Bruno by a 7-0 decision. Emerging from the mat with his hand raised again reinforced Hall’s desire to make sure his senior season, unlike the last one, ends up with him striking the same winning pose.
“My goal is to end the season on top,” Hall said. “And to do that, I have to make sure handle myself and my opponents and if I do that, I know I will accomplish my goal.”
But Hall’s planned path toward a national title features potential road blocks.
According to FloWrestling.org’s preseason poll, Hall is ranked as the fourth-best 133-pound wrestler. But even that relatively lofty status fails to make him the highest-ranked 133-pounder in the Big 12 Conference, or even in the state of Iowa. Oklahoma senior Cody Brewer (No. 1) and Clark (No. 2) are among the three wrestlers ranked higher than Hall.
“That’s [the voters’] opinion,” Hall said. “I know I’m good and really, it all depends on what happens on the mat.”
During Hall’s time at Iowa State, he has consistently improved in terms of match record. He went from 22-15 his first year in Ames to 27-8 last year. And from what ISU coach Kevin Jackson saw this offseason, Hall may be in for that big senior year he’s committed to achieving. Hall will begin his renewed quest for a national championship as he takes on Virginia Tech’s Kevin Norstrem Nov. 7 in Blacksburg, Va.
“This offseason, [Hall] has turned it up a notch,” Jackson said. “He can go beat anyone.”