KANSAS CITY — When redshirt junior 174-pound wrestler Lelund Weatherspoon walked onto the mat to compete in the 174-championship match he had one thing on his mind.
“I knew if I didn’t walk off that mat as champion, Kyven (Gadson, a former ISU wrestler and NCAA champion) was going to give me crap about it,” Weatherspoon said.
Back in 2014, Weatherspoon claimed a Big 12 individual title when he was a redshirt freshman and last season, he was a Big 12 runner-up. Sunday, he is walking out of the Sprint Center as a two-time Big 12 Champion.
“I did it again,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s a really good feeling.”
At the beginning of the year, Weatherspoon didn’t look like the Weatherspoon who beat the number one seed in the 174-pound bracket, Chandler Rogers of Oklahoma State.
A consistent storyline for the 2015-16 ISU wrestling season was, Weatherspoon is spotty. At moments earlier this season, Weatherspoon would look like a man who couldn’t handle the toughest of the tough around the nation.
None of that matters now, though, in this most important month.
“We have said this all year long, grow toward March,” said ISU coach Kevin Jackson.
And that is exactly what Weatherspoon did.
Weatherspoon faced a tough challenge coming into the Big 12 Championships. He was the number three seed, so his road to the finals wasn’t an easy one.
His first match was against the sixth seed in the 174-pound bracket, Ross Renzi of West Virginia. Weatherspoon defeated Renzi via a 5-3 decision. Then in the semifinals, Weatherspoon faced second-seeded Mitch Reed of Oklahoma.
Earlier this season, Reed handily defeated Weatherspoon, in a 6-1 decision, at Norman, Okla. But Weatherspoon went into sudden victory against Reed in the semifinals on Saturday night and won via a 3-1 decision.
Heading into the championship bout, the ISU coaching staff stressed to Weatherspoon to avoid an upper body fight with Rogers. The upper body attack is Rogers go-to strategy.
But Weatherspoon likes to go upper body as well.
“I was like, ‘Let’s go,’” Weatherspoon said. “I wanted to test him out.”
Once he figured out that he could go for Rogers’ upper body, he kept attacking it.
Weatherspoon made one mistake in the first period, as Rogers scored an upper body takedown. But Weatherspoon didn’t allow that to affect him.
He claimed two more upper body takedowns to go up 6-5, after allowing Rogers to earn two escape points. It was the fourth upper body takedown that helped Weatherspoon to earn his second Big 12 individual title.
That’s what put Weatherspoon up 8-5 in the third period. After that Weatherspoon rode Rogers out to claim the title.
Once Weatherspoon walked off the mat, he met Jackson in the tunnel. Assistant coaches Travis and Trent Paulson had been mat side for his bout.
Jackson told Weatherspoon that he was proud of him and he wrestled great. However, the after match praise didn’t come without some tough love attached.
“He did the whole I’m proud of you thing but after that he was like you could have done this better and what not,” Weatherspoon said.
So after starting the season a little shaky, Weatherspoon ended the season on top of his weight class and flexing his muscles to the crowd.
“We would have liked to seen that type of Weatherspoon all season long,” Jackson said. “But it is good to see him peaking at the right time.”
Although Weatherspoon left Kansas City with a Big 12 individual title, Iowa State had two other wrestlers in championship matches on Sunday who didn’t meet the same fate.
Seniors Earl Hall and Tanner Weatherman both wrestled in their respective weight classes championship matches, 133 and 165-pounds respectively.
Unlike Weatherspoon, those two wrestlers walked off the mat as runner-ups instead of champions.
Hall lost his match to defending 133-pound national champion and eventual Big 12 wrestler of the tournament, Oklahoma’s Cody Brewer, via a 11-7 decision. While Weatherman lost his match to the nation’s No. 1 165-pound wrestler, Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer, via a 4-2 decision.
Even though those two wrestlers didn’t claim titles, Jackson was pleased with their matches.
“They wrestled their best matches of the season out there today,” Jackson said.
With the end of the Big 12 Championships, Iowa State will have a week to prepare for the NCAA Championships. And from what Jackson saw this weekend, he has high hopes for the NCAAs.
“We are peaking at the right time,” Jackson said.
Big 12 Championships — Team Results:
Oklahoma State- 161 points
Oklahoma- 100 points
Iowa State- 87 points
South Dakota State- 77 points
West Virginia- 65.5 points
North Dakota State- 62.5 points
Utah Valley- 60.5 points
Air Force- 39.5 points
Northern Colorado- 30.5 points
Iowa State Individual Results:
Lelund Weatherspoon- Champion at 174 pounds*
Earl Hall- 133-pound runner up*
Tanner Weatherman- 165-pound runner up*
Pat Downey- 3rd place at 197-pounds*
Dane Pestano- 4th place at 184-pounds
Kyle Larson- 5th place at 125 pounds*
Logan Breitenbach- 6th place at 157-pounds
Joe Scanlan- 6th place at Heavyweight
Nathan Boston- No place at 141-pounds
John Meeks- No place at 149-pounds
*= NCAA Qualifier due to either placing at the Big 12 Championships