Morningstar endures to reach Big Ten finals

March 8, 2009

Big Ten Wrestling Photo Gallery (Session II) | Post-match Video with Erekson

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The 75th career collegiate wrestling victory for University of Iowa junior Ryan Morningstar thrust him into the Big Ten Tournament championship at 165 pounds.

Morningstar, the No. 3 seed, `upset’ No. 2 Colt Sponseller of Ohio State 2-1 in overtime Saturday in a semifinal bout. He will face top-seeded Andrew Howe of Wisconsin in the finals. Howe edged Morningstar 4-3 in overtime on Jan. 23 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena — a match that sparked the now-famous meeting at the scorer’s table between Hawkeye coaches Tom and Terry Brands and Wisconsin head coach Barry Davis.

“It’s a good feeling,” Morningstar said. “I put myself in position to go win a Big Ten title and I plan on doing that.”

It was anything but an easy trip to the championship for the Lisbon, Iowa, native. In the quarterfinals he defeated hometown hero Dan Vallimont of Penn State, 3-2. His second one-point victory over Sponseller was a test of endurance.

“I just kept wrestling,” said Morningstar, who last faced Sponseller in junior nationals his senior year of high school. “I wrestled in all positions and didn’t stop for a single second. I knew if I did that I was going to be just fine and it turned out all right.”

Morningstar (27-4) has now won seven consecutive matches and is making his first appearance in the Big Ten finals. He was fifth in conference as a freshman and seventh last season. With the wins over Vallimont and Sponseller, Morningstar secured his third trip to the NCAA championships.

Fellow Hawkeye juniors Brent Metcalf (149 pounds), Phillip Keddy (184) and Dan Erekson (285) will join Morningstar in the Big Ten finals. Metcalf is the defending conference champion at 149 and he will battle a familiar foe in Penn State’s Bubba Jenkins in the finals. Top-seeded Metcalf is 3-0 all-time against Jenkins, who is undefeated this season and ranked No. 2 in the nation. Jenkins, no doubt, will have a partisan crowd on his side.

“We need to take care of business and get that Big Ten team title,” Morningstar said.

Iowa heads into the final day of the tournament with a 25-point lead over runner-up Illinois, 110-85. The Hawkeyes have four finalists and the Illini have one. Wisconsin is currently in third place with 83 points and four finalists.