Heading into the NCAA Championships, which begin today in St. Louis, the Iowa State wrestling team is sending its smallest participant group since 1955: only three competitors.
Seniors Earl Hall and Lelund Weatherspoon where two of the three Cyclones to make the tournament, as they made it as at-large qualifiers in their respective weight classes (133 pounds and 174 pounds).
It wasn’t jarring to see Hall and Weatherspoon make the tournament as both of them have been in the top-15 of their weight classes for a majority of the season. The third Cyclone to make the championships, the shock factor was on the other end of the spectrum.
The Big 12 had five automatic qualifying spots in 197-pound class up for grabs during the conference tournament. Iowa State’s 197-pound wrestler, Marcus Harrington, headed into the championships as the No. 8 seed (out of 10). Harrington lost in the Consolation semifinals to South Dakota State’s Nate Rotert, the 2-seed, via technical fall 20-4. However, in the fifth place, Harrington attacked his opponent early and often and won 14-11, earning an automatic qualifying bid.
“I still, even now, think I can be a national champ if I go out there and do what I need to do, wrestle the way I need to wrestle,” Harrington said on his expectations for the NCAA Tournament.
Harrington believes he can accomplish such a goal by wrestling for seven minutes straight and attacking offensively, which was the way he performed at the Big 12 Tournament.
“(Harrington) is a stud. He’s always been tough, but he’s starting to tie into the talent versus the fight,” interim Iowa State head coach Travis Paulson said on Harrington’s Big 12 Championships performance. “The kind of standard you expect to wrestle at Iowa State, you expect to be apart of this program, you got to fight for seven minutes and you got to wrestle to score points. He’s a guy that is kind of locked in, he’s made some improvements and I’m really happy for him.”
Considering the accolades Harrington came to Iowa State with (a two-time Iowa State champion), it isn’t surprising that he qualified for nationals. The reason why it’s shocking that he is one of the three Cyclones is because of the roller coaster of a season he had.
Harrington started the season off with an injury. Then later on in the year, he was benched during the North Carolina dual because the coaches wanted to send a message that he wasn’t performing to his true abilities. He also dropped his headgear in the mat after his loss in the UNI dual that had a lot of people thinking his time in Ames may be done.
“(Harrington’s) work ethic is way different than it was at the beginning of the year,” Hall said. “He wants to go up against those guys who will challenge him. He loves going against Kyven (Gadson) now. He, actually goes with Kyven everyday…He just had enough. The guy he was in high school, we are now seeing that translate to college.”
The stigma surrounding Harrington so far in his short career in Ames is that if he wrestled the way he does within the first 15 seconds of match, he would be considered one of Iowa State’s top performers. But in the last month of the season, Harrington has been wrestling that way throughout the seven minute battle.
The key turning point of Harrington’s season was his match against Minnesota’s Bret Pfarr. Although he was eventually pinned in that match, Harrington claimed he first takedown against Pfarr, who is the No. 2 seed in the 197-pound NCAA Championship bracket.
That takedown seemed to affirm his confidence.
“It just going to come down to my ability,” Harrington said on how he has defend against top-tier talent in St. Louis. “Just like on bottom. When I want to get up, I can. When I want to defend their attacks, I think I’m going to be able too.”
Harrington didn’t let his early season rough patches affect him to much. The coaching staff stressed championship season throughout the year and Harrington had faith in himself that he was going to make it to the NCAAs.
Not only have the Iowa State coaches emphasized national championship time, they have also reiterated that anything can happen in March.
“He can make some noise,” Hall said. “Anything can happen. If he goes out there and does the same thing he has been doing all year, he’ll be good.”