2024 NCAA Championships Watch Party

Yonger Bastida Entering NCAAs With High-Octane Offense, Dynamic Defense

Yonger Bastida Entering NCAAs With High-Octane Offense, Dynamic Defense

Iowa State heavyweight Yonger Bastida has shown off his offensive skills throughout the season, but his defense was top-notch in the Big 12 finals.

Mar 19, 2024 by Rob Gray
Yonger Bastida Entering NCAAs With High-Octane Offense, Dynamic Defense

To the untrained eye, Iowa State heavyweight Yonger Bastida appeared to be in peril.

Air Force’s Wyatt Hendrickson clutched his leg tightly during the Big 12 title bout earlier this month, and Bastida hopped rhythmically on the mat, unconcerned and undeterred.

“(I’ve felt) comfortable in there since I was 10 years old — ever since I started wrestling,” said Bastida, who unleashed a stunning six-point move from that less-than-ideal position to win his first Big 12 championship. “People get in on my legs and I feel comfortable even more when my leg’s in the air on one foot, bouncing or whatever. But, you know, they have to be careful because I won’t give up a point. I don’t give up points, you know? So they’ve gotta earn it. They’ve got to be careful.”

Bastida — who moved up to heavyweight from 197 this season — has been utterly dominant now that the mere concept of cutting weight is a distance memory. He’s 24-0, seeded second in the NCAA Championships, which begin Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., and is rippling with confidence as he seeks to win his first title for a Cyclone team that qualified nine wrestlers for nationals.

“My confidence comes from the room,” said the Cuban transplant, who owns 10 wins this season over competitors ranked among the top 10 when they met. “It’s working hard every day with (head coach Kevin) Dresser, my teammates, with all the coaches — that’s the confidence that I get. Just in the room getting better, getting stronger and getting tougher.”

Bastida’s possible path to Saturday night’s title bout could include several rematches, so he’s not looking ahead. Instead, he’s gazing inward, determined to draw every ounce of grit and greatness from himself.

“He’s just a freak of nature,” said 2021 national champion and four-time All-American David Carr, who is seeded fourth in a loaded field at 165. “I think one thing about Yonger that we kind of forgot (about) is his defense is insane, as well, because he’s just been on fire with his offense, lighting people up. So I think if he stays on offense, you’re gonna see a lot of great results this weekend, and if he needs his defense, he’ll use his defense, as well.”

Particularly when he’s wrestling on a single leg, looking to attack rather than simply avoid a takedown.

“When you’ve got his leg up in the air, he’s like a triple threat,” Dresser said. “He can take you down for there, so where that came out of, I’ve seen a little bit of that, but not much of it, but wow. That was the move of the Big 12 tournament, I think.”

Carr’s On Par

Carr’ long-awaited latest rematch with two-time defending 165-pound champ Keegan O’Toole of Missouri ended in an 8-2 setback at the Big 12 Championships. Carr wrestled aggressively, but O’Toole countered perfectly and sealed the outcome as desperation set in in the closing moments. Still, Carr — who is 115-5 in his sterling college career — took the loss in stride and plans to make another stirring run at nationals.

“Just this being the last tournament gives me a lot of fuel,” Carr said. “And with O’Toole, a lot of little adjustments, a lot of little things. (I was) really close to a takedown early, really close to some different things, so to me, working on those things this week, working on those little things, I think, will make a big difference.”

Doubt Carr at your peril, Dresser said. And as for him getting seeded fourth … 

“David, deep down, doesn’t get to be the underdog much,” Dresser said. “And my experience with David is, it’s always a little bit easier for him as his career’s went on to be the hunter instead of the hunted. So he might get to be the hunter for one more time in his career and he doesn’t get to do that much. I think he’s pretty excited about that. I know he’s focused.”

Team Talk

Dresser is convinced each of the nine wrestlers he’ll take to nationals is capable of scoring points to help ISU potentially notch a top-three team finish for the first time since 2010.

“I think we’ve got a good team,” Dresser said. “We’re gonna need some breaks to get up there to the top and we’re going there to get to the top, so we just need to get it going.”

Carr has little doubt that he and his teammates will do just that.

“A lot of our guys are dangerous and they’re looking really sharp, so I think It’s gonna be a good tournament,” he said. “I think it’s gonna be good for every single guy who steps on the mat.”