Final Bracket of a Storied Career

March 19, 2013

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 — University of Iowa 125-pound wrestler Matt McDonough walked off the mat in 2012 with his second NCAA title, but before he was able to remove the black singlet, thoughts of a third title consumed his mind.

“How are you going to make your legacy?”

“How are you going to set your mark on the program?”

Those were questions McDonough asked himself at the NCAA post-match news conference.

“Those thoughts crossed my mind (before the finals)… I was a one-timer, three-time finalist. That’s good, but I want to be in that group that keeps getting smaller and smaller, and that three-time NCAA championship group is even smaller.”

The three-time champion group is a premium six-pack that includes the names Ed Banach, Barry Davis, Jim Zalesky, Tom Brands, Lincoln McIlravy and Joe Williams.

McDonough would be the seventh member, but he’s going to have to reverse some fortunes to make it happen.

He lost to second-seeded Jesse Delgado at the Big Ten Championships 10 days ago, and he dropped a 4-0 decision to top-seeded Alan Waters at the NWCA National Duals in February. As the No. 3 seed, McDonough could potentially face both wrestlers en route to the crown.

“I have a loss to the No. 2 seed and the No. 1 seed, and I know that I’m more than capable of turning both of those matches in different directions,” said McDonough. “It’s motivating to know that you have the chance to meet them again and to do yourself some justice by improving upon previous performances.”

McDonough also can draw from his experience in 2010 when he lost in the conference finals before winning the national tournament as a No. 3 seed. It’s not the ideal blueprint, but in the history of Iowa wrestling, 18 Hawkeyes went on to win the NCAA title the same year they failed to earn Big Ten gold.

UI head coach Tom Brands is one of those 18. He won the national title in 1990 after losing in the Big Ten finals. McDonough could be the first wrestler to do it twice, and Brands believes it can happen with the right approach.

“We’re not defending anything, we’re not trying to rectify a disastrous season,” said Brands. “We’re just going out and wrestling in the national tournament. You’ve done it three other times. It’s ahead of you and your best wrestling can be ahead of you. That’s how you have to think every event.”

A fourth trip to the finals would also place McDonough in elite company. Only Ed Banach, Duane Goldman and McIlravy can say they reached the NCAA finals four times in their Hawkeye career.

Another finish in the top eight would make McDonough the 18th four-time All-American in school history.

It’s a laundry list of superlatives, but McDonough heeds his coach’s advice and is approaching his final bracket as the next event, albeit a big one.

“It’s really something that’s hard to think about before it’s over, because when you’re thinking about something before it’s over you create negative thoughts or pressure for yourself in a way that you think you need to be placed somewhere, rather than just competing with yourself to do the very best you can,” said McDonough.

“(The tournament) is a chance to put an exclamation point on an exciting and enjoyable career. It’s been a heck of a lot of fun. There’s a lot adversity and challenges, but in the end it is all worth it when you go out on top. Not even going out on top, it’s when you feel that sense of extreme gratification knowing that everything you put into it, you got back out of it because of the way you competed and ended your season and your career.”

The NCAA Championships begin Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. The finals air live on ESPN at 7 p.m. Saturday night.