PUEBLO, Colo. – At some point you have to ask yourself if it is worth it.
Cody Lensing did just that.
After a state runner-up finish in 2008 for Totino-Grace High School in Moundsview, Minn., Lensing headed to Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Year one saw 29 victories in 45 matches. As a sophomore, he only wrestled five matches, winning four.
Then there was that moment.
“School has always been very important to me. I enjoyed wrestling but school was a lot more important,” Lensing said. “I kind of took a sabbatical, got away from wrestling my sophomore year.”
He came back rejuvenated prior to the 2010-11 campaign. Problem was, again he was a workout partner, a back-up, somebody who shows up every day and gets beat on by a starter in a tough room with solid 125- and 133-pounders.
“I didn’t come back for coach or my parents, or really anybody but myself,” Lensing said. “I didn’t want to finish my wrestling career like that. I’ve been wrestling for so long, I knew I still had something left to accomplish.”
It’s not often that a wrestler returns after “taking some time off.”
“He’s biochemistry major and really didn’t want to drop off some hours at the time,” Augustana (S.D.) head coach Jason Reitmeier said. “He started talking to me again in the spring and you could really tell he wanted to get back on the mat. He really loves wrestling.”
Augustana’s Al Meger, a senior last year, lost in the Divisoin II final at 125 pounds. The Vikings also had Jason Jeremiason at 133 pounds. He finished third at the DII Championship at 133 pounds. At the 2010 Championship, Augustana’s Laramie Schaffer was fifth at 133.
That return included a major lifestyle change.
“He sat behind Jeremiason last year at 133 and had a good year,” said Reitmeier of Lensing, who won 16 of 18 matches as a junior at 133 and 141. “And we talked about [Jeremiason] coming back again at 133 so it was going to be tough to make the team. He said 125, that he would start to cut down slowly over the summer and see how things were when school started. I told him about the lifestyle change, what it required and that we weren’t going to make him do that. He’s been able to maintain the weight and still have a lot in the third period. He never gets tired.
“He’s like a 3.96 student, has everything going for him, so if he didn’t come back to wrestle, it would have been OK. It’s been special. He’s part of such a great family, a family that really supports wrestling.”
Finally, 2011-12 belonged to Lensing, now a senior.
“We’ve had tough guys for a long time,” Lensing said. “The training curve from high school to college isn’t easy. My freshman year I didn’t realize how good those guys were who were beating up on me every day. You see them in the [NCAA] semifinals and you realize just how good they are. I knew coming into this tournament I could be one of those guys; it was my turn.”
Lensing entered his final collegiate tournament with a 17-5 mark. He opened with a 9-2 decision of Ouachita Baptist’s Garrett Evans and a second-period pin of Seton Hill’s Kenny Trumbetta in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, he trailed 3-2 entering the final two minutes. But a six-point flurry down the stretch led to an 8-3 decision and a spot in the title bout against Grand Canyon’s Kyle McCrite.
“I think I’ve been behind in every match this year,” Lensing said. “I had been in the situation plenty, so I didn’t panic. It was a blur after the match, but realizing I was in the finals feels pretty good. It feels good after all the work, all the time in the room.”
The time in the room will put Lensing in the spotlight tonight, on the big state of the NCAA final.