Le'Roy Barnes relishes one last opportunity with Missouri wrestling

On Jan. 8, Barnes made his debut at 157 pounds in front of a home crowd.
Missouri 149-pounder Lavion Mayes wrestles Oklahoma Sooner Davion Jeffries on Jan. 30, 2016, in the Heanres Center.

Last spring, Missouri wrestler Le'Roy Barnes was applying to grad school. He was ready to make the next big step in his life while closing his wrestling career.

"I could’ve graduated, I was ready to hang up the shoes and focus on getting my masters somewhere," Barnes said. A year later, the redshirt senior could have never imagined he'd be wrestling at the national wrestling tournament. But coach Brian Smith did.

"I told him, ‘we got a spot for you on this team, we just don’t know where yet’ and then he told me he wanted to give one last go,” Smith said.

Barnes took Smith’s advice and returned to Columbia for his final season in his wrestling career. Barnes competed against teammate Matt Manley for the starting 141-pound spot early in the season. Manley defeated Barnes in the Maryville Open 2-1, but Barnes sought revenge, beating Manley 6-4 at the Lindenwood open securing the varsity spot at 141 pounds, or at least Barnes thought.

Instead, Smith decided to send Manley to Vegas to compete at Cliff Keen Invite where he beat several ranked wrestlers en route to a fourth-place finish. After the tournament, Manley was officially named the Tigers’ starting 141-pounder.

"I was under the impression I’d be starting," Barnes said. “I just wondered why (he chose him). But I trusted Coach Smith and just patiently waited for the next opportunity.”

Patience payed off for Barnes. The Tigers’ two-time returning All-American at 157-pounds, Joey Lavalle, decided right before the start of the season that he’d redshirt, leaving an open spot at 157 pounds. Smith’s pieces were starting to fall in place for Barnes. While Barnes competed with Manley at 141 pounds, three wrestlers would come and go at the 157-pound spot early in the season.

On Jan. 8, Barnes made his debut at 157 pounds in front of a home crowd. He picked up his first victory against Buffalo's Tim Schaefer, 6-1, and then went on to win six of his 11 dual matches. He then entered the Mid-American Conference tournament where he was seeded fifth.

At the MAC tournament, Barnes beat Kent State’s Ian Miller and in the final, Barnes cruised to a 11-2 victory over Northern Iowa’s Bryce Steiert. The once 141-pounder had earned himself a bid to the NCAA tournament at 157 pounds. "I went into the tournament expecting to win and I did,” Barnes said. “I think people need to realize that if you expect to win, you will.”

The redshirt senior will officially end his wrestling career in New York City at the NCAA national wrestling tournament. The tournament will kick off Thursday. Barnes will face Cornell’s Dylan Palacio in the first round. “I’m just going to wrestle each match at a time,” Barnes said. “If I battle through every point and position the pieces should fall in place.”

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