The Register’s Andy Hamilton takes a look back at Iowa’s performance at the NCAA Wrestling Championships and looks ahead to next season:
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Tony Ramos walked a high wire all the way to the top of the awards podium. In his five tournament matches, the senior 133-pounder never led with a minute remaining in regulation. Yet he found a way to win three bouts with dramatic last-minute takedowns, registered another win in overtime and showed incredible wrestling acumen by scoring the winning points of the title bout with an unorthodox tilt to beat Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff 3-1 in a tiebreaker.
“I got the job done,” he said. “That’s all that matters right now.”
Ramos, the No. 3 seed, was one of four Hawkeyes who finished above their seeds. Eighth-seeded Cory Clark (fifth at 125) and No. 11 Nathan Burak (eighth at 197) made the biggest gains. Clark beat everybody he faced except two-time national champ Jesse Delgado of Illinois and Penn State’s two-time NCAA runner-up Nico Megaludis.
Although he failed to escape in a 30-second tiebreaker and later won on a stall call, the urgency Clark showed in his 7-6 win against Oklahoma State’s Eddie Klimara in the Round of 12 is the type of stuff the Hawkeyes need to demonstrate more consistently.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Iowa dropped out of the title race midway through the tournament when four Hawkeyes got bounced from the consolation bracket Friday afternoon after their six teammates went 3-3 in the quarterfinals.
In several instances, Iowa’s tournament performance didn’t match up to how the Hawkeyes performed throughout the season. No. 5 seeds Nick Moore and Ethen Lofthouse suffered first-round losses and couldn’t make the climb to the medal stand. Brody Grothus posted midseason victories against NCAA champion Jason Tsirstis of Northwestern and national runner-up Josh Kindig of Oklahoma State, but the sophomore 149-pounder went 1-2 in Oklahoma City. In fact, Iowa wrestlers registered wins this season against three NCAA champions and three other national finalists.
The Hawkeyes failed to register a pin in 50 contested tournament bouts, though they thought they had two in Friday night’s semifinals when Ramos put Edinboro’s A.J. Schopp on his back in the closing minute and Mike Evans stacked Chris Perry at the end of overtime before dropping a 3-2 decision in a tiebreaker.
LOOKING BACK: Derek St. John finished his career as the 12th wrestler in Iowa history to place fifth or higher four times at the NCAA Championships.
“He’s probably been one of the tougher guys I’ve seen go through (the program) as far as dealing with adversity and ligaments that have been detached and significant injuries that would maybe even sideline somebody for a career,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “I don’t think his best wrestling was realized because of that overall, even though he was a national champion and Big Ten champion.”
St. John placed fourth as a freshman, reached the NCAA finals as a sophomore after missing half the year with a knee injury, won the national title as a junior and placed fifth as a senior. He wouldn’t use injuries as a crutch when asked if there was anything that limited him this season when he finished 30-6.
“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for myself or anything like that,” St. John said. “You battle through different things as your career goes and you’ve got to learn how to fly, whether it’s an injury or you’re in a slump.”
LOOKING AHEAD: The Hawkeyes most likely will be at or near the top of the national rankings next year, along with Penn State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Cornell and Oklahoma State. Seven NCAA qualifiers return, including four All-Americans, and Iowa has talented young options to fill the vacancies left by Ramos, St. John and Lofthouse.
“We’ve definitely got firepower,” Brands said. “We’ve got to do better, no doubt. But it can be done.”