March 11, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The wrestling world had been waiting all season for the Big Ten Conference 149-pound showdown between No. 1 Brent Metcalf of Iowa and No. 2 Dustin Schlatter of Minnesota. While fans were waiting, Metcalf was preparing.
At the Big Ten Championship on March 8-9, Metcalf warmed up for the main course by decking Eddie Skowneski of Michigan State and Grant Paswall of Illinois for his ninth and 10th falls of the season. He then tossed Penn State’s Bubba Jenkins around in the semifinals to the tune of a 15-3 major decision. Schlatter, a two-time Big Ten Champion, two-time All-American and 2006 NCAA Champion from Minnesota, awaited in the finals.
Metcalf enthusiastically put his 26-match winning streak on the line in front of a pro-Golden Gopher crowd at Williams Arena on March 9 and in front of a Big Ten Network national television audience. After falling behind 2-0 a minute into the first period on a takedown by Schlatter, Metcalf resorted to his consistent ally for the remaining six minutes — domination. The sophomore from Davison, Mich., controlled the pace and muscled Schlatter around the mat — and occasionally off — before securing a late third-period takedown to win, 5-3, and claim his first conference championship. Schlatter was warned for stalling twice in the match and took an injury timeout.
“Any title like this is big,” Metcalf said. “It’s important to get them and this is what you train hard for and this is what you compete for. But you know what? I have to look forward to the next couple weeks to the NCAA finals and finish strong there as well.”
Even though Metcalf was obviously the aggressor, as the clock ticked down and Schlatter continued his backward shuffle, it was not unfathomable to think that this match was destined for overtime. In the end, Metcalf’s persistent stalking paid off.
“That comes from deep inside him and how his mommy and daddy raised him,” said UI head coach Tom Brands. “The way he won that was a great testament to his guts. Head-strength and guts.”
Fueled by outstanding performances like the one from Metcalf, the Hawkeyes rallied past Minnesota to win their 32nd league team championship and their first since 2004. Iowa won 12 of 15 matches during the final session and out-distanced the host Gophers 127 to 112 ½.
“I knew it was a close team race and stepping on that mat I put it on myself,” Metcalf said. “That was an eight-point swing we needed (in the team standings) and I’m not sure if it came down to that match or not, but in my head it did.”
“Any title like this is big. It’s important to get them and this is what you train hard for and this is what you compete for. But you know what? I have to look forward to the next couple weeks to the NCAA finals and finish strong there as well.”
Metcalf, who transferred from Virginia Tech, lost one year of eligibility, but will have three seasons to wear the Hawkeye singlet. For his year-long performance, Metcalf was named Big Ten Conference Wrestler of the Year. For his four victories last weekend — two by fall and one by major decision — Metcalf was named Outstanding Wrestler at the Big Ten Championships. In a nutshell, Metcalf is living up to the hype that followed him to Iowa City.
“There’s been a lot of talk and talk’s talk,” Metcalf said. “It’s coming out here performing, which is what I love doing and which is what I’ve missed.”
Metcalf became Iowa’s 101st Big Ten champion last Sunday. As his 34-1 record illustrates, he has been rock solid all season as the Hawkeyes rolled to a 21-1 dual record and top billing in every national poll.
“Brent Metcalf did an outstanding job,” said Brands, who could have been referring to the entire season as well as the Big Ten Championships. “He is a great example of what I want all our guys to aspire to. Duplicate Brent Metcalf. Just pump them out by the dozens and put them in your program.”
The Iowa program has not only flexed for the wrestling community this season, but it has also boasted its team depth. In two years as UI head coach, Brands has strengthened the caliber at all 10 weight divisions. Supporting that claim is the fact that in the 2007 and ’08 Big Ten tournaments, the Hawkeyes combined to score 218 points, yet have had a combined four finalists. That takes contributions from up and down the lineup, especially when you recognize that Metcalf is just the second Brands-coached conference champion, joining senior Mark Perry, who won the 165-pound division a year ago.
Metcalf is the fourth Hawkeye to win the Outstanding Wrestler at the Big Ten Championships and Big Ten Wrestler of the Year in the same season. The others are Mark Ironside (1997), Terry Brands (1992) and Tom Brands (1989). Metcalf wasn’t the lone Hawkeye to leave Minneapolis with league accolades. Brands won the Coach of the Year Award, joining former UI coaches Jim Zalesky (2000, 2004) and Dan Gable (1993, 1996), who also received that honor. Brands has now been named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Big Ten Wrestler of the Year, Outstanding Wrestler at the Big Ten Championships and now Coach of the Year.
ENEMY TERRITORY — Williams Arena was dominated last weekend by fanatics clad in maroon and gold in support of the hometown Gophers. To them, the UI and anything in a black singlet represents an evil empire. They cheered every Hawkeye slip and booed every Hawkeye success. Hostile? Not to Metcalf.
“This is the environment you want to win in,” Metcalf said. “It’s never easy. When you have 10,000 against you, that’s the way you want it. That’s the way I want it.”
ANSWER TO A TRIVIA QUESTION — The question will be asked frequently the next two weeks: `Who defeated Metcalf this season?’ The answer is sophomore Darrion Caldwell of North Carolina State. He pinned Metcalf in 1:40 at the St. Edwards Duals in Lakewood, Ohio, on Nov. 24. Caldwell (27-3) recently won his second consecutive ACC championship and is rated 10th by the latest W.I.N. rankings published on March 10. He is 3-0 against wrestlers from the Big Ten this season, including a 12-3 win over Josh Churella of Michigan and a fall against Jake Patascil of Purdue.
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