When Lavion Mayes left Mascoutah five years ago for the University of Missouri, he wanted to make a name for himself as a NCAA Division I athlete.
Now 22, Mayes’ will graduate from Missouri later this spring with a degree in electrical engineering. It’s on the wrestling mat that he’s made his reputation.
A two-time All-American, Mayes will conclude his collegiate grappling career beginning on Thursday at the NCAA Division I Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. One of eight Missouri wrestlers competing in the three-day event, Mayes is the third seed in the 149-pound weight class after placing third in the 149-pound division a year ago.
“It’s been a great five years with a lot of great memories that I will have forever. I’ve met a lot of great people at Mizzou. No regrets,” Mayes said in a telephone interview. “There have been some challenging times as well as a lot of good times, both of which I believe have helped me grow and mature into the person I am. I’m going to miss it. But I’m excited about the future.”
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Mayes will take on Sahid Kargbo of George Mason University on Thursday in his first round match. Action continues throughout Thursday and Friday with national champions crowned on Saturday at Scottrade Center.
Mayes will enter the Scottrade Center on Thursday morning seeded behind defending 149-pound champion Zain Retherford of Penn State. One of the dominant wrestlers in the nation in any weight class, Retherford has not lost a match since the 2014 NCAA Tournament and will bring a 57-match winning streak into St. Louis. He was voted as the 2016 NCAA Tournament Most Dominant Wrestler.
Oklahoma State University senior Anthony Collica (20-2) is the No. 2 seed ahead of Mayes. Mayes defeated Collica for third place in the national finals a year ago.
“Collica and I know each other well,” Mayes said. “I’ve never wrestled Retherford.”
Wrestling just 30 minutes from where his career began as a middle school wrestler more than a decade ago, Mayes is focused on winning a national championship.
“It’s been a good year. I would have liked to have had a few more matches, but I missed a few weeks in November when I suffered a concussion in practice and had to sit out. But I have great practice partners who have worked with me and I’m ready for this week,” Mayes said. “I think right now when you ask me if anything less than me winning a national title will be disappointing, I would say yes.
“But if you ask me in a few weeks, if I know that I’ve trained and worked as hard as I could, continue to do everything I could do in order to give myself the best chance to win a national title and I come up short ... that’s all I can do. That’s all anybody can do.”
The early days
The son of Clarence Mayes and Christina Whitson, Mayes was born in Breese but has memories of growing up in Mascoutah with his older sister Desiree.
“I remember we lived a couple of places in Mascoutah and the one place we lived didn’t have many kids. There were a lot of older people in the neighborhood and so I spent a lot of time around home. When we got older, my sister and I would take our bikes out and ride to where there were more kids our age,” Mayes said. “I was in seventh grade when I got introduced to wrestling.
“The first time I went out I didn’t really know what I was doing and I got beat. I didn’t like it very well. Then, when I was I think in the eighth grade, I won my first tournament. I started to wrestle more after that.”
Mayes said he worked with Steve Turner, who worked with a wrestling club in and around the Mascoutah/Scott Air Force Base area and once entering Mascoutah High School, worked a lot with coach Shane Bates.
“Coach (Shane) Bates traveled with Lavion to most off season events and drove him from tournament to tournament,” said Mascoutah coach Chris Lindsay. “Lavion is a very bright young man. His work ethic has never been questioned and the confidence in himself has always been there also. Lavion did not start varsity the first half of his freshman year, but worked with Kent Williams, Kyle Williams, and Scott McQuiston daily.
“His improvement came fast.”
After breaking into the starting lineup midway through his freshman season, Mayes placed third in the Class 2A State Tournament 140-pound weight class as a junior, then won the 145-pound title, finishing with a record of 45-1.
When it came time to choose a college, there were three schools in the running — Northern Illinois, Oklahoma and Missouri. No long after that, Mayes was headed to Missouri where he would become one of the nation’s best.
Life at Mizzou
Mayes’ freshman year was one of transition as he learned to adapt into becoming an NCAA Division I student-athlete. He redshirted his freshman season while competing in three open tournaments, placing second in each in the 149-pound weight class. He finished with a 13-6 record.
Breaking into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman, Mayes was named as Most Improved Wrestler by the Tigers coaching staff. Breaking into the starting lineup in the 141-pound weight class. Mayes won his first college tournament, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Although falling short of becoming an All-American, Mayes won 29 of 43 matches that first year and proved to everyone that he could not only could compete for an NCAA Division I power, but that he would be a national force during his next three years.
Mayes has been one of the nation’s best for the past three years.
“I had a lot of ability but I had a lot to learn when I got to Missouri,” Mayes said. “One of the reasons I came to Missouri was that I thought it would give me the best opportunity to win a national championship. Coach (Brian) Smith has pushed me and like I said, I’ve had great support and practice partners to work out with every day. They pushed me to get faster and stronger and of course to get better technique.”
Still in the 141-pound weight class as a sophomore, Mayes earned his first All-America honor, placing seventh and finishing with a record 38-4. Last season in his first season at 149-pounds, Mayes finished 32-3, placing third in the NCAA Championships.
Mayes captured the 149-pound title in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament earlier this year. He’ll have his own cheering section as he goes after the big prize.
“My parents and grandparents will be there. My girlfriend and her parents along with friends. Coach (Chris) Lindsay said he’ll be there and I’m sure there will be other people from Mascoutah who will be there as well. My sister can’t make it. She’s moving and sometimes you have to pick and choose. She’ll be there to see me graduate from college in a few weeks.”
NCAA Wrestling Tournament
- 10 a.m. Gates open at Scottrade Center
- 11 a.m. Session I at Scottrade Center
- 2-6 p.m. NCAA Fan Fevestival at Union Station
- 4:30 p.m. Gates Open at Scottrade Center
- 6 p.m. Session II at Scottrade Center