116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Matt McDonough's spring vacations used to include the NCAA Wrestling Championship.
Now, they are all business and he wouldn't want it any other way.
McDonough continued his postseason success by reaching the finals of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Friday night at Scottrade Center. The University of Iowa junior remained dominant with a 15-7 125-pound semifinal win over Kent State's Nic Bedelyon.
This is McDonough's favorite time of the year.
“It's been like that since I started coming to these when I was in seventh grade,” McDonough said. “Spring Break, everyone goes to Cancun. I go to the NCAA tournament. I get to watch tough wrestling. Now, I get to live the dream. I get to do it.”
McDonough, who won an NCAA title as a freshman, advanced to his third straight NCAA championship bout. He placed second last season. Each new challenge is special.
“It feels better than the other two because it's the newest one,” McDonough said. “Have to always build on itself. ... But it's a new season. As always, I'm striving for the top.”
McDonough has recorded two pins and two major decisions en route to the finals. He never trailed against Bedelyon, working for bonus points until the end. He is clicking on all cylinders.
“He seems to be. He's a pretty tough customer,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “Bonus points in four matches. That's good.”
McDonough (35-1) faces Penn State's Nico Megaludis (28-7) in the finals. McDonough won in overtime in January.
Iowa 157-pounder Derek St. John's bumpy road reached the desired destination. He defeated Northwestern's Jason Welch, 5-1, in the semifinals.
He suffered a knee ligament injury that sidelined him for most of two months and led to two losses that likely hurt as much as his knee. He wouldn't be denied.
“I mean, with the situation at hand, it's pretty important,” St. John said about reaching the championship match. “It wasn't really ever a doubt in my mind that it wasn't possible. But I had a little bit of a setback with the knee. I just kept marching forward.”
He was full speed ahead against Welch.
St. John used solid basics and his ability to scramble to get the better of Welch. He displayed that ability throughout the postseason, including the Big Ten championships and while the winning takedown in overtime to drop Penn State's Dylan Alton, 3-1, in the quarterfinals. St. John said much of succeeding in those situations is instinct.
“You got to keep moving,” St. John said. “You got to know where you are, keep your cool. It's a feeling thing, I think, more or less.”
St. John scored a takedown at the end of a long scramble, finishing with less than three seconds remaining in the first.
“It's very important when you can score a takedown at the end of the period,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “We call that ending on top. It's a good strategy, and a lot of coaches talk about that.”
Brands said good technique and positioning help set up the unorthodox moments.
“The key is we have to go to basics first,” Brands said. “That's where we're good for our scrambling.”
St. John (21-2) will face two-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake (34-0) of Cornell. Dake, a junior, is looking for his third title at a third weight class, winning at 141 and 149 previously.
“You get ready to wrestle like it's another match,” St. John said. “It is a bigger, more important match. They're all important, but the level's raised.”
Montell Marion (31-3) forged this wait back to the finals with a thrilling 3-1 overtime win over Oklahoma's Kendric Maple, avenging a loss earlier in the Midlands Championships. He returns to the finals since his runner-up finish in 2010.
“I try not so much to think about the past, you know,” said Marion, a three-time All-American. “There's some things that happened last year where, you know, there was a lot of regret. My first year in the finals, a lot of regret.
"Like I've been saying through this tournament, it's not about necessarily correcting those things from the past, but basically going out there and proving this year that I'm the best. That's what I plan on doing tomorrow, righting some wrongs. That's just part of the journey.”
The pair exchanged escapes in regulation. Marion was the aggressor, stalking Maple on the edge. Marion hit a single-leg takedown attempt in sudden victory overtime, pulling Maple to the center of the mat and had the room to finish the decisive move.
"That's big,” Brands said. “When you do that you have to drag guys back into the center of the mat.”
Tony Ramos was the lone Hawkeye to lose in the semifinals, dropping a 4-2 decision to Ohio State's Logan Stieber at 133. It was his third loss to Stieber this season. Despite coming up short in his second trip to the NCAA tournament, it was his first All-American finish.
“A guy like Ramos can come back,” Brands said. “He's shown that he can do it. He's going to have to do that again.
“There's some positives there, but don't tell him that. Let's get him in the highest place he can go now.”
Don't expect Brands to be satisfied with winning all but one semifinal match.
“Is it OK that we went 3 for 4?,” Brands queried. “No, because there's one guy that's hurting right now. He's back at the hotel getting ready to go tomorrow like the other three are.”
Iowa managed six All-Americans. In addition to the four finalists, Bobby Telford and Ethen lofthouse reached the podium.
Telford scored two victories after a quarterfinal loss and moved into the top six with a chance to place as high as third. Lofthouse will wrestle for seventh.
The Hawkeyes were third with 93 points after the second day. Defending champion Penn State was in control, placing five in the finals and amassing 124 points. Minnesota had two finalists with 101.5.
University of Northern Iowa had two wrestlers contender for All-American honors Friday night, but the Panthers won't be represented on the podium Saturday night.
Fifth-seeded Joe Colon (133) and 184-pounder Ryan Loder lost in the round of 12.
Virginia Tech's Devin Carter avenged an earlier loss with a 13-10 elimination win over Colon. Loder dropped from the tournament with a 5-3 loss to Nebraska's Josh Ihnen.
“You feel bad for your guys and what they do every day for you and how much effort they put in,” Second-year UNI head coach Doug Schwab said. “You feel bad for them.
“This sport will rip your guts out.”
Schwab was disappointed with a second straight year without a medalist. It's not what he envisioned when he took over to rebuild the Panthers program.
“We will get back to work. We will watch tomorrow,” Schwab said. “I said that would never happen again and but here we are again. It is not a very fun feeling. I know it will motivate me but it's got to motivate my guys.”
Iowa State had one wrestler reach the round of 12. Third-seeded 165-pounder Andrew Sorenson reached the quarterfinals, but lost two straight. He advanced further than any other Cyclone.