Chadron State College’s representative at the NCAA Division II National Wrestling Tournament in St. Louis doesn’t lack for experience and is determined to make his family, coach and teammates proud this weekend.
Ethan Leake is a 141-pound redshirt sophomore from Clovis, Calif. He qualified for nationals by placing second at the Super Region 6 Tournament at Grand Junction, Colo., on Feb. 26. He knows the competition at nationals will be rugged, but he plans to give it his best shot.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “I want to show people what I’m made of and help the Chadron State wrestling program.”
Under the guidance of his father, Robert (Yogi) Leake, Ethan began wrestling when he was five years old and has been at it ever since. He said his dad, who was an outstanding high school wrestler, has been “coaching me up, basically my whole life.”
Ethan added that his mother, Amanda, is among his biggest boosters. The family that includes a younger brother and sister, now lives in Knoxville, Tenn., and will drive to the national tournament.
Leake (pronounced Leak) had a terrific high school wrestling career at Buchanan High School in Clovis. He was a three-time state tournament placewinner in a state where all the wrestlers are lumped into one division and more than 600 boys compete. There are 44 wrestlers in each weight class.
As a sophomore in 2016, Leake won all six of his matches and was the 113-pound state champion. He also placed fourth at 120 as a junior and finished third at 126 pounds his senior year in 2018. His career record was 182-32. In addition, he says, the Buchanan Bears were ranked the No. 1 public school wrestling team in the nation some of the time while he was competing.
“We had a great program. We didn’t wrestle just California teams,” Leake related. “Twice during my career we went to Minnesota for tournaments and when I was a senior we flew to New Jersey for a special tournament.”
Naturally, Leake was heavily recruited, and wound up accepting a scholarship at the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley, where he spent three years before transferring to Chadron State last fall. Because he redshirted one year and because of the COVID issue in 2020-21, he will have two years of eligibility after this season.
While he had a 25-15 record at UNC, he said he “never really got in the groove there” and entered the transfer portal at the end of the abbreviated ’20-’21 season. Chadron State Coach Brett Hunter made contact and invited him for a visit.
“I came last April and really liked it,” Leake said. “Chadron is smaller than I thought it would be, but I love it here, have made lots of friends and like my teammates.”
Hunter calls his prize recruit “kind of an unorthodox scrambler” on the mat.
“Sometimes it seems like he’s out of position, and I wonder what he’s trying to do,” the coach said. “Then all of a sudden he’s got the other guy out of position. He leads our team in reversals.”
Hunter further explained that when he’s in the referee’s position, instead of trying to stand up and break away, Leake will often “stay on the mat, roll around and find a way to get a reversal.”
The ploy earned the two points that provided Leake with a 5-3 victory over nationally-ranked Dean Noble of Western Colorado during the Super Regional Tourney. The win was big because earlier in the month Noble had won a 7-5 decision during a dual at Gunnison.
Following that victory, Leake defeated Josh Fuentes Norikiyo of San Francisco State 7-4, allowing him to advance to the championship match against Nick James of Nebraska-Kearney. James won the title with a second-period pin, but Leake was still on his way to the national tourney.
James also edged Leake 9-8 during a dual in Chadron on December 11, but afterwards Lopers’ Coach Dalton Jensen told Hunter he was impressed with Leake and predicted that the Eagles’ newcomer would be a national qualifier, perhaps this year. The forecast has proven accurate.
Leake has a 13-8 record going to nationals. Two of the losses were early in the season when he was competing at 149 pounds. Two more were against University of Wyoming grapplers while he was still trying to get his weight settled. Since then, he’s had a 7-3 record.
The National Tourney pairings indicate that Leake will be matched against some of the top ranked 141-pounders immediately.
His first opponent Friday morning will be No. 4 rated Zeth Brower of Lander University at Greenwood, S.C. Brower is a native of Medford, Ore., has a 14-1 record with his only loss due to a medical forfeit. He outscored his three opponents 36-0 while winning the 141-pound championship at the Super Regional Tourney at Pembroke, S.C., on Feb. 26.
The winner of that match will take on No. 5 Christian Small of King College at Bristol, Tenn. Small checks in with a 28-3 mark.
The early rounds at nationals, as with any large tournament, are crucial. Hunter, a national champion in 2007 and 2009 while competing for the Eagles, points out that anyone who wins twice on Friday, the first day of the showdown, is guaranteed of being an All-American.
No one can forecast how things will turn out at nationals, but Hunter is proud Leake has qualified, and notes that anyone who has been a California state champion and a top-four medal winner at that state tourney two other times has proven he’s capable of competing against the best.