The fact that a wrestler tops this list should almost be expected.
Iowa wrestlers make doing the extraordinary seem ordinary, junior Matt McDonough being the latest example.
This wasn’t a great season for the Iowa wrestling team because somebody else — Penn State — won the national title.
It was a great season for McDonough, though, great in the sense that he is the only University of Iowa student-athlete to claim an individual NCAA title during the 2011-12 school year. That made the Marion native an easy choice for the top spot on this year’s list of the top 10 University of Iowa male student-athletes.
The hardest thing about forming this list was trimming it to just 10 student-athletes. It’s usually a no-brainer for an Iowa football player with first-team all-Big Ten credentials to make the list.
However, that wasn’t the case this time because there were more worthy candidates than usual, caused largely by the recent successes of the Iowa golf team and the Iowa track and field team.
The fact that wrestler Tony Ramos didn’t make the cut despite finishing third nationally at 133 pounds is proof of the competition. All-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater and Big Ten javelin champion Matt Byers also came up just short. The three would’ve had a spot in the top 10 in past years with their credentials.
1. Matt McDonough, jr., wrestling: The former Linn-Mar star won the 125-pound title at the Big Ten and NCAA Championships this past season. He finished the season with a 36-1 <FZ,1,0,18>record and he also recorded a team-best 12 pins and ended the season with a 28-match winning streak.
He has a 100-4 career record and the fourth best winning percentage (.962) in school history. He also won a national title at 125 pounds as a freshman in 2010 and finished runner-up as a sophomore.
McDonough capped his junior season by being named Iowa’s male Athlete of the Year.
2. Erik Sowinski, sr., track and field: The former walk-on from Waukesha, Wis., ended his career as the most successful 800-meter runner in school history. He solidified that position by finishing runner-up in the 800 at the NCAA Championships at Drake Stadium in Des Moines earlier this month.
Sowinski recorded a career-best time of 1 minute, 45.90 seconds in the 800 final. He is the first student-athlete in school history to break the 1:46 mark in the 800.
“I never would have imagined that I would take second-place,” Sowinski said after competing in the 800 final. “At Iowa, I have grown a lot. It has been a great four years.”
3. Montell Marion, sr., wrestling: The Des Moines native finished runner-up at 141 pounds at the NCAA championships. He lost the title match in overtime and finished his career with a 91-21 record. He was also a three-time All-American as a Hawkeye.
4. Derek St. John, soph., wrestling: The former West High star also finished runner-up at the NCAA Championships, losing 4-1 to three-time national champion Kyle Dake in the 157-pound final. St. John finished the season with a 21-3 record and with his first Big Ten title.
5. Marvin McNutt, sr., football: The St. Louis native is to Iowa receivers what Sowinski is to Iowa 800 runners. McNutt capped his career with a brilliant senior season that saw him set a school record with 1,315 receiving yards on 82 catches.
He made first-team all-Big Ten and was the recipient of the Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award, which goes to the top receiver in the Big Ten. McNutt finished his career with 2,815 receiving yards and with 28 touchdown catches, both of which are school records. He was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the sixth round of the NFL draft in April.
6. Matt Gatens, sr., basketball: The former City High star did what McNutt and Sowinski did by saving his best year for his last year as a Hawkeye. Gatens led Iowa’s resurgence under coach Fran McCaffery by leading the team in scoring (15.2), 3-point baskets (75) and free throws (111). The 6-foot-5 shooting guard was the only player on the team to start all 35 games and he scored in double figures 27 times, including nine games with at least 20 points. He also led the team in scoring in seven consecutive games from Feb. 16 to March 8, which is the longest streak for a Hawkeye since point guard Andre Woolridge led Iowa in scoring in seven straight games in 1997.
Gatens also was named his team’s Defensive Player of the Year and he ended his career as Iowa’s sixth all-time leading scorer with 1,635 points. He is in the process of working out with several N BA teams in preparation for NBA draft June 28.
7. Troy Doris, sr., track and field: The Bolingbrook, Ill., native defended his Big Ten title in the triple jump indoors and outdoors this past season. He also finished in fifth place at the NCAA Outdoor Championships earlier this month. The first-place finish at the conference meet was his fourth in four Big Ten Championships.
8. Barrett Kelpin, sr., golf: The Kalamazoo, Mich., native has been one of the keys to Iowa’s rise to power under coach Mark Hankins. Kelpin was a first-team all-Big Ten selection and he finished runner-up for Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior. His 72.04 season-stroke average is the second lowest in school history.
Kelpin turned professional shortly after graduating from Iowa and he won his first tournament in his home state. He captured the Michigan Open and tied a record that had stood for 64 years by carding a four-round score of 23-under par.
9. Riley Reiff, jr., football: The Parkston, S.D., native became the latest in a growing list of offensive linemen to make first-team all-Big Ten under coach Kirk Ferentz. Reiff decided to skip his senior season to enter the 2012 NFL draft and the move has since paid dividends with the The Detroit Lions selected Reiff in the first round and 23rd overall.
10. Sasha Kuebel,fr., baseball: He joins McNutt as the second player from St. Louis on the list. Kuebel was a unanimous selection to the Big Ten all-Freshmen team and he also made second-team all-conference. He finished with a 6-0 record in 13 starts for a team that finished below .500. He also finished with a 2.67 earned-run average, which ranked seventh overall in the Big Ten and first among league freshmen.
Honorable mention: Chris Brant, golf; Paul Gordon, swimming; Jeffery Herron, track and field; Ethan Holmes, track and field; Steven Ihm, golf; Phil Keppler, baseball; Ryan Phelan, swimming; Shaun Prater, football; Tony Ramos, wrestling; Ian Vadersee, golf; Joseph Winslow, golf; Aaron White, basketball.