Moving On, Wrestling Hard

Jan. 26, 2012

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — A few highlights here and there don’t cut it in the University of Iowa wrestling room, where domination and championships are the expectation.

But in the words of two-time Hawkeye NCAA finalist Matt McDonough, that’s what Iowa got last weekend during uncharacteristic back-to-back dual losses at Ohio State and Penn State. The spotlight returns to McDonough on Sunday, when he squares off against the top-ranked 125-pound wrestler in the nation — Zach Sanders of Minnesota — in a pivotal bout that could sway the final team score. McDonough is 4-0 against Sanders with a pair of major decisions. McDonough won, 10-3, last season in the dual in Williams Arena.

“That’s just rising to the occasion,” McDonough said about match No. 5 against Sanders. “You have to love the opportunity and love the chance. You know you have a big match and you’re going to go out there and battle seven minutes. It’s not going to be seven minutes of touchy-feely — I want to score some points as soon as that whistle blows and then all the way to the end, no matter what happens.”

When McDonough says he will wrestle hard every second, he means all 420 seconds. That’s something Sanders knows first-hand. McDonough won 6-4 in their first meeting at the NWCA/Cliff Keen National Duals in Cedar Falls, Iowa, when he was a redshirt freshman in 2009-10. McDonough followed that with a 13-2 major decision in the league dual in Minneapolis, and an 8-0 major decision in the Big Ten Championship semifinals in Ann Arbor, Mich. Last season, McDonough won by seven points in the league dual.

McDonough was the lone Hawkeye to go undefeated against the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions, but even his match scores were uncommon for someone with nine falls and six major decisions. McDonough defeated Johnni Dijulius of Ohio State, 5-2, and knocked off Nicholas Megaludis of Penn State, 3-1, in overtime.

“I can’t let guys slow me down and grab a hold of me,” McDonough said. “But it’s not about what the other guy is doing; it’s about myself and not wrestling slow…not letting people wrestle at a slow pace, but wrestle at my own pace, speed and intensity.”

And then McDonough uttered words that could be emblematic for the entire Hawkeye roster:

“Maybe I need a little more fire in my belly when I step out on that mat.”

McDonough’s rhetoric is similar to that of his head coach, Tom Brands, who in six seasons with the Hawkeyes, owns a 106-9-1 dual record with three national team titles, 28 All-Americans, eight Big Ten champions and six NCAA champions. He is 6-1 coaching against the Gophers.

“There has to be more fire, there has to be more aggression, there has to be more fight,” Brands said. “You’re looking inside a program that hasn’t been in this position in a long time, so maybe there needs to be a little bit more of the curve skewed, and we’re working on it.”

Iowa (9-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten Conference) enters Sunday’s dual ranked No. 6 by the NWCA/USA Today Division I Coaches Poll; Minnesota (8-2, 5-0) is third.

An Iowa-Minnesota event is typically a big draw, even though the teams have yet to crack into the top 25 crowds in Carver-Hawkeye Arena history (No. 1 was 15,955 against Iowa State on Dec. 6, 2008; No. 25 was 11,583 against Oklahoma State on Feb. 16, 1985). Brands is curious as to how full the arena will be Sunday.

“You get big crowds with entertaining and winning wrestling,” Brands said. “We didn’t compete, and we didn’t win this past weekend. We have to prove ourselves capable in tough matches, and lately it hasn’t happened. We have a job to do to earn that back and this is as good of a chance as any.”

McDonough’s actions on the mat against Sanders will be a telling sign for Hawkeye fans and teammates. McDonough feels the sting of the most recent road trip — he has an emotional battle wound — but he keeps pressing forward. The next goal is Minnesota, and he says morale remains high.

“Every guy has to go out there to be the best in the country, not just to keep it a close match,” McDonough said. “If you’re wrestling the No. 1 guy in the country, you plan on beating him and beating him bad.”

Sunday’s dual begins at 3 p.m. (CT). It will be televised live on BTN with Tim Johnson, Jim Gibbons and Shane Sparks calling the action. It will also be broadcast on AM-800 KXIC and streamed online at via Hawkeye All-Access. Steven Grace and Mark Ironside will have the live call from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.