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AMES — Marcus Harrington is a bit unique.
Bigger wrestlers typically rely on timely attacks in low-scoring matches. Harrington isn’t one to wait around.
Iowa State’s 197-pounder is a bit more athletic than upper-weight guys, making him a harder matchup. That difference helped Harrington secure the only automatic bid for the Cyclones to the NCAA Championships, which run Thursday through Saturday in St. Louis.
Seniors Earl Hall (133 pounds) and Lelund Weatherspoon (174) earned at-large berths to give Iowa State three participants.
“(Harrington’s) mind-set when he’s healthy and firing on all cylinders, we all really believe he can beat anybody in the country,” said ISU interim head coach Travis Paulson. “I think he’s shown potential.
“There aren’t many matches where you watch him and he doesn’t go out and get the first takedown. That’s just because he’s pretty special.”
Harrington (9-11), who goes into the NCAA Championships unseeded, has had his ups and downs. Injuries limited the redshirt sophomore and he went into the postseason with just five wins. The Big 12 Championships ended up being his coming-out party.
As eighth-seeded 197-pounder in Tulsa, Harrington sprung upsets of two higher-seeded wrestlers and won four matches to place fifth in the tournament. When Harrington is at full-health, Paulson said, the Waterloo native is able to use his athleticism to greater degrees and put pressure on his opponent.
The next step for any young wrestler is to rein in the mental side of the sport. Paulson likens each match to a series of several smaller battles. Part of Harrington’s growth is that natural maturation.
He’ll face No. 6 Preston Weigel of Oklahoma State in the first round Thursday.
“Say there’s a bad call in the match in his mind or something doesn’t go his way, sometimes he lets it affect him too long,” Paulson said. “It’s almost like the mind-set where you get punched in the face, are you just going to sit there or are you going to respond?
“Not that we’re advocating fighting, but it’s just an analogy for him to lock into those multiple battles that happen.”
He’ll be going to the NCAA Championships alongside Hall and Weatherspoon, who will each be trying to repeat as All-Americans. No. 13 Hall opens the tournament against Princeton’s Pat D’Arcy and No. 14 Weatherspoon will face Stanford’s Peter Galli.
Hall (22-10) and Weatherspoon (22-11) both finished the season in the top 20 of their weight classes. Weatherspoon, who was the only unseeded wrestler to reach the semifinals of the 2016 NCAA Championships and finished sixth, faced an opponent ranked in the top 20 12 times in 33 matches.
“The cool thing about both Earl and Lelund is they’ve both become unseeded All-Americans,” Paulson said. “They already believe that they’re in a better position than they ever have been.
“For Lelund, he’s seeded and he’s not afraid to wrestle anybody and all of the best guys. He’s never wrestled someone and left the mat thinking, ‘This guy’s just better than me.’ It’s more like, ‘I just need to fix this thing and I’ll beat him next time.’”
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