Before the wrestling season began, Post Falls senior Nathan McLeod certified so he could compete as low as 152 pounds.
McLeod heads to the State 5A tournament seeded first at 182.
He bounced between the 160 and 170 classes the first half of the season before settling in at 182 – about 20 pounds over his natural weight.
“It came down to what would be best for the team and be best for Nathan,” Post Falls coach Pete Reardon said. “He’ll do anything he’s asked to help out the team.”
The decision for McLeod to roost at 182 took place in mid-January. Since then he’s been 15-0.
McLeod and his teammates open state Friday. The Trojans, ranked No. 1, are favored to win their first championship.
“It’s all about the team for me this year,” said McLeod, who took second last year and third as a sophomore.
McLeod (31-6) is one of four to draw the top seed. The others, also seniors, are two-time state champ James Ost (145), defending state champ Tyler Booth (152) and Cole Jesienouski (170), a state champ a year ago. The seniors are four-time state qualifiers.
It’s possible McLeod could face off against an opponent who weighs about 200 pounds before cutting to make weight. More than likely, his opponents will have a 20- to 25-pound advantage.
McLeod is one of the rare wrestlers who has to eat to make weight. By rule, he can’t compete in more than one weight heavier than the one he qualifies for when he weighs in for a match or tournament. He must weigh at least 162 (counting the weight allowance) – too heavy for 160.
When he showed up for practice Monday, he was at 165.
“A hard workout could easily put me below 162,” he said.
What McLeod gives up in weight he tries to make up for with brawn.
“The theory is if I’m faster and smarter I should be able to conquer their weight advantage,” McLeod said.
McLeod’s most difficult challenge at state could come from his own team. Post Falls junior Cody Johnson is also at 182. He’s seeded second on the opposite side of the bracket.
Ost (37-2) wants to do something that’s rare – be a three-time state champ. Only 19 other 5A wrestlers have done so.
His two losses this season came to Mead senior Jeremy Golding in the finals at the Inland Empire Classic and Tri-State tournament. Golding captured a third state title last weekend.
“I have to go out there and wrestle with confidence,” Ost said. “I’ve put in the work. Now I have to trust my skill set.”
Reardon said Ost has nearly 100 takedowns, most by any Trojan.
“He’s had a dominant season,” Reardon said. “It’s been an honor to coach him. You don’t get many kids like him.”
Booth (41-4) is one of the most dedicated wrestlers at Post Falls. He’s had the most matches, meaning he competes whether hurt or healthy.
Late in a match two weeks ago, McLeod suffered a high ankle sprain. Reardon wanted McLeod to default, but he wouldn’t.
“He’s one of the toughest kids we have,” Reardon said.
McLeod tweaked the ankle at the district tournament last Saturday. Reardon made McLeod default so he wouldn’t risk further damage.
Reardon asked McLeod how the ankle was feeling Monday. The coach isn’t sure he got an honest answer.
“He told me it’s getting better,” Reardon said. “A lot of kids get dinged up and they look for an excuse to take a rest. He’s going to fight through anything. I don’t recall he’s even been out of the lineup in the three years I’ve coached him.”
Booth said improved conditioning and being quicker on his feet have allowed him to improve this year.
“My feel on the mat is much better,” Booth said.
Jesienouski (37-4), a first-team all-league pick as a midfielder in soccer last fall, believes he’s peaking at the right time.
“I’ve improved in a lot of technical stuff,” he said. “And I’m a little bit smarter this year. I need to have my mind in the right place and take it one match at a time at state.”
His best win in the regular season came in the finals at the Inland Empire Classic. He beat Mead senior Sam Voigtlaender 9-3. Voigtlaender won a state title last weekend.
“He’s super athletic and really strong,” Reardon said of Jesienouski. “He uses his long lanky frame well. He gets a lot of leverage and strength for his size. He’s one of the fiercest competitors we have.”
The seniors believe they can bring back the school’s first state title. The best previous finish is fourth.
“I think we will do it,” Ost said. “We’ve got six or seven state champs in the room. If we all wrestle to our ability and get bonus points when we can, then we should take the title.”
“They say we’re supposed to win it,” Booth said. “We can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to go out and wrestle hard.”
In addition to the four No. 1 seeds, the Trojans have four second seeds, two thirds and a fourth.
“On paper, we have more high seeded guys than the other teams,” Reardon said. “We just have to step in and take care of business. This group of kids has always done that.”