By Rob Gray
AMES — Iowa State legacy all-American wrestler Kyven Gadson said the words over and over.
The top-ranked, but, oddly, fifth-seeded 197-pounder at the NCAA Championships, which runs Thursday through Saturday at Oklahoma City, had created the following phrase to pave the mental path toward a national title:
“I will be a NCAA national champion.”
It felt good to say it — until a friend of the family, former ISU standout Mike Mann, told him a tweak was required.
“He told me I had to change it to, ‘I am a national champion,’ because it affirms my thinking,” said Gadson, who rolls into nationals on an 11-match winning streak, five of which gleaned bonus points. “So I’ve told myself many time that, ‘I am a national champion.’ I just have to go out there and prove myself and just let it fly.”
Gadson’s the top title contender among six Cyclones who will compete at nationals.
Others in the mix: all-American 165-pounder Michael Moreno; his brother and first-time qualifier, Gabe Moreno (149); 2013 NCAA qualifier Trent Weatherman (174); Big 12 champ Lelund Weatherspoon (184); and at-large qualifier Earl Hall (125).
“I really think they’re ready to take advantage of this opportunity,” said ISU Coach Kevin Jackson, whose team hopes to improve on am 11th-place finish last season. “It’s what we talk about all year. It’s what we work towards all year. And I think we’re focused on that first match. Once we get through that first match, you kind of get on a roll.”
Gadson — who earlier this month joined his father, the late Willie Gadson, as part of the only father-son duo to win two conference titles — thrives on inspiration, but isn’t too concerned with numbers that don’t begin and end at “1” on Saturday.
Being seeded fifth baffled Jackson, though, as well as much of the wrestling world.
“Initially you’re a little shocked by it; you don’t understand it,” Jackson said. “But you can only control what you can control. We can’t control that. We can only control ourselves and what we do. He’s adjusted to the draw and obviously if you’re the best, you have to prove it. And he has to prove it.”
Just the way Gadson likes it.
Along with visualizing and verbalizing success beyond all-American status, he’s focused on staying calm and relaxed.
To that end, he partook in a soothing pre-NCAA Championships massage, then sat still for a pedicure with his girlfriend.
“Got to get lighter on my feet,” he said, laughing.
Last season, Gadson competed under a heavy load of emotion.
His father had passed away from cancer days before the NCAAs.
Gadson channeled his grief into a sixth-place finish at nationals.
Now he’s reinvigorated by a deeper commitment to his faith and still wrestling to make dad proud.
The robe he wore to honor his father at last year’s Championships will be neatly packed among his belongings.
He’s still unsure if he’ll take the mat with it at any point, but he will step out confidently, mentally powered by those reworked words.“I feel great,” Gadson said. “My body feels great and, more importantly, my mind’s feeling good.”