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Commentary: NCAA wrestling title tainted by lack of individual champions

BY RYAN YOUNG | MARCH 23, 2009 7:30 AM

ST. LOUIS — It definitely wasn’t the storybook ending Iowa expected at the conclusion of the NCAA wrestling championships.

The Hawkeyes received a 22nd team title to a storm of cheers and whistles, but the jubilant and prideful ovation at the end of the tournament might as well have been cricket chirps.

Without a champion, there just isn’t much to celebrate for the nation’s top program.

Iowa’s title came as a serendipitous byproduct of Ohio State’s failed efforts — not because the Hawkeyes manhandled their competition. And as a result, Northwestern senior Jake Herbert will forever be remarked in college wrestling lore as the guy who sealed the deal for Iowa in 2009.

Sure, three Hawkeye wrestlers in the consolation semifinals won and moved on to vie for third with heavyweight Dan Erekson unexpectedly scoring mad team points on a first-period pin against top-seeded big man David Zabriskie. But only 165-pounder Ryan Morningstar earned bronze in the wrestle-back finals, finishing to his No. 3 seed.



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So where are the uplifting positives?

Out of the nine NCAA qualifiers, only Erekson placed higher than he was forecast to be, and he took fourth as the seventh-seeded heavyweight.

Seniors Charlie Falck and Alex Tsirtsis lost out in the second day of competition, as did junior Jay Borschel — an All-American a year ago for the Hawkeyes at 174.

Fourth-seeded Daniel Dennis ultimately ended his junior season on a 9-8 loss to Boise State’s No. 5 seed Andrew Hochstrasser in the 133-pound quarterfinals. Yes, he finished seventh technically on a win, but I doubt Dennis will remember his last bout as being a default.

I will stick up for Brent Metcalf, though. He deserves to be lionized for what he did — or intentionally did not do — to Darrion Caldwell at the end of that finals match because I absolutely have zero tolerance for showboats.

Caldwell is like a younger, more immature East-Coast version of Floyd Mayweather Jr.

His backflip in the final seconds wasn’t an irrepressible burst of emotion. It was an arrogant and childish display from someone who really wouldn’t of had any business being in the championship round if Penn State junior Bubba Jenkins wouldn’t have disgracefully given in so early in the tournament.

Millions of Americans watching ESPN’s live coverage of the NCAA finals (and the more than 10,000 anti-Iowa fans sitting inside the Scottrade Center) may now think of Metcalf as a poor sport. But my view of him has never been higher.

Metcalf was classlessly taunted on stage and mercilessly booed on his way off on March 21, walking right into the northwest corner tunnel where every Illinois, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska fan let him hear their displeasure.

But he didn’t lower his head or divert his eyes from the hatred. Instead, Metcalf kept his chin pointing skyward as he wore a granite-chisled mask.

He held the expression until he got to the only part of the arena where cameras were prohibited. Then, he broke down.

And it hit me: Everything he had spent all year building — the undefeated record, the 69-match winning streak, possibly capturing a second-straight Dan Hodge trophy, and the aspirations of being a three-time NCAA champion after losing a year of eligibility on a bogus ruling by Virginia Tech — it was all gone at the end of a regrettable seven minutes.

Maybe it’s just me being a college student idolizing an elite collegiate student-athlete from his beloved school, but I can’t help but weep for Metcalf.


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