Iowa's Thomas Gilman, top, wrestles Virginia Tech's Joey Danse in a 125 pound consolation semifinal at the 2017 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Thomas Gilman wasn’t enthused with a bronze medal.
The way he earned it proved more to the University of Iowa senior 125-pounder than the actual finish.
“Bronze medal,” Gilman said. “Whoop-de-do. The bigger deal for me is losing, refocusing (and) coming back. Not only shows the kind of wrestler I am but the person I am, the man I’ve become.”
The tough, gutsy leader in action and talk for the Hawkeyes closed his college career with two victories Saturday at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, rebounding from a disappointing semifinal loss about 15 hours earlier.
Gilman closed with a decisive 13-6 victory over Oklahoma State’s Nick Piccininni for third. His first match was a 5-2 win over Virginia Tech’s No. 2 Joey Dance.
“I was in the same position two years ago when we were here in St. Louis,” said top-seeded Gilman, who was fourth in 2015. “I was that close. I wasn’t mature enough to ice the cake there against (Missouri’s Alan) Waters in the bronze-medal match.
“I’m proud of my maturity than my wrestling today.”
Gilman has sparked the Hawkeyes all season. He did it one more time, starting a string of seven straight consolation victories.
“It says a lot about him,” said Iowa redshirt freshman Michael Kemerer, who was third at 157. “He’s been the leader all year. He’s very vocal.
“I haven’t seen him lose all year. I was confident he’d bounce back, but you never know. You have to see how a guy bounces back. He bounced back well and showed if he could bounce back from it, being a senior then sure as heck I can.”
Gilman was forced to pick himself up after falling in overtime to Lehigh’s Darian Cruz. He said Cruz was strong and stifled his offensive attacks with a clamp-like tie-up. Gilman still was unsure of what happened during the winning move to make it 4-2. Attention had to be switched to making weight the next day and resting for his final run.
“I never aborted the mission,” Gilman said. “The mission just kind of changed a little. I just go out and do the same thing I have been doing my whole career. Wrestle whoever they put out there and that’s what I did today.
“After this, I’ll take some time and be emotional and refocus and let it set in that I’ll never be an NCAA champion. I’m sorry to my team and my university.”
Gilman ended with three All-American honors and a 107-12 career mark, reaching the 125 finals last season. As he walked off the mat, he was embraced by Iowa Coach Tom Brands. The moment didn’t need words, according to Gilman.
“I think our relationship is to the point where words are words,” Gilman said. “Actions speak louder than words. The way he looks at you, embraces you or snarls at you then you know what it means.”
The words between Gilman and Brands will come later. Gilman, an accomplished freestyle wrestler, would like to remain in Iowa City to train for his international career.
“I think there is time for me to evaluate this tournament and let everything sink in and figure out how to turn that into motivation to get back on the mat,” Gilman said. “There needs a conversation between me and Coach Brands. It’s not a given that I can stick around. I put myself in a good position, but better ask. If he gives me his blessing, his willing, then I will be training for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.”
THOMSEN MATCHES FRESHMAN FEAT
Northern Iowa’s Max Thomsen closed his first national tournament with a victory, beating Virginia Tech’s Solomon Chishko, 10-4, for fifth place at 149 pounds.
The result is the best finish by a Panthers freshman since Mark Schwab was fifth in 1986.
“I put the boots on every day and went to work,” Thomsen said. “My teammates motivated me to do that. I have a lot of great examples like our senior class. Guys like J.J. Everard, a man who would be down here making noise, but he gets hurt. A guy like Dylan Peters, a two-time All-American, he’s dinged up his shoulder and both knees and he’s still fighting.
“So, I see all this motivation and that helps me go to work every day.”
Thomsen finished the season 31-7. The win over Chishko reversed a 7-1 loss in mid-November.
“You lose two tough matches and he’s able to respond like that to a guy who beat him earlier in the season,” UNI Coach Doug Schwab said. “It shows the grit and toughness he has.”
The four-time state champion from Union plans to use this to propel him up the podium in the following years. He is prepared to work in the offseason to improve.
“That’s always the plan,” Thomsen said. “Keep building. Keep climbing. I have a lot of people who support me.
“When I take a loss, the first thing they say is I know you can do better. I know you can keep climbing, so I try to do that for them.”
The NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships drew 18,953 fans for the medal rounds Saturday morning. Total attendance through the first five of six sessions reached 91,797.
The three-day event surpassed 18,000 spectators for each session, including an expected sellout crowd for the finals Saturday night.
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