Three grapplers take unblemished records into Big Ten Championships

BY J.T. BUGOS | MARCH 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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Wrestlers crave the moment after a match when a referee reaches for their wrist. With their chests heaving and sweat dripping from their muscular frames, their arm is raised towards the ceiling, signaling triumph.

Three Iowa grapplers — Brent Metcalf, Jay Borschel, and Matt McDonough — never left the mat this season without experiencing that sensation. The trio combined for 86 victories without a loss.

These Hawkeyes have aspirations reaching beyond the regular season. At the Big Ten championships, the three will launch their quest to command the top spots in their weight classes.

Fighting for a first title

Borschel has nothing to say.

The 174-pounder didn’t want to answer questions during the week leading up to Big Ten championships, but his eyes said plenty.

He focuses on one thing: winning the national title. And he confirmed this earlier in the year.

Before Iowa’s matchup with Ohio State, he said a career is defined by wins, losses, and championships. After the Hawkeyes dismantled Wisconsin to end the regular season, the Marion native said his unblemished record is meaningless without an NCAA championship.

Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands pointed to Borschel’s stellar high-school résumé as part of the reason he so badly wants to put that notch in his belt.

“He’s a high-school phenom, a four-time Iowa state champion, and that’s a big deal,” Brands said. “He’s done a good job, and let’s cap it off with a great performance.”

Brands said Borschel is a good scrambler and deceptively strong. But what he needed to improve upon this season was being ready to go.

Borschel has one last chance to win a NCAA title, and anything less will be a disappointment for the senior.

“I know what he’s after,” Brands said. “He’s after the championship, and that’s how he’s been born and raised. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

First season, first title?

Iowa may have had ample questions surrounding its 125-pound weight class at the beginning of the season.

But McDonough’s success in his first season wasn’t a shock to anyone in the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex.

The expectations surrounding McDonough rose swiftly throughout the season. At the beginning, he was expected to simply fill the position.

By season’s end, he needed to dominate.

“You have to rise to the occasion. For someone who’s a true competitor, those expectations just feed you and make you stronger as both an athlete and a person,” the Marion native said. “I think at Iowa, the high expectations are more of a good thing than a bad thing, because it keeps you on your feet and keeps you aware of what you’re going after.”

As the wins mounted, McDonough became more comfortable in the lineup. He said his level of effort has been consistent throughout the year, but it’s hard to know what to anticipate when you first put on a Black and Gold singlet.

The redshirt freshman, described by Brands as a demanding young grappler, said he had to expect to get the outcomes he wanted — ultimately, winning an NCAA title.

McDonough admitted being anxious, but he said it should keep his head on right, making him aware of the opponents who want to prevent him from attaining his goal.

A season without failure can bring complacency. While he feels a sense of accomplishment, the 125-pounder doesn’t lack motivation.

“National titles keep me motivated. Being the best,” the third-ranked grappler said. “You do that hard work, practices, and sacrifices, all so you can go show yourself along with the rest of the country what you’ve done and how far you’ve come.”

Gunning for a second title

Metcalf didn’t get the result he wanted last year.

After winning a NCAA title his sophomore season, Metcalf finished second in 2009.

His undefeated season is the first step toward reclaiming the 149-pound summit.

Relentless on the mat this year, Metcalf rarely allowed an opponent to take a breath much less score a point. He focused on building leads and separating himself from his challengers.

With wins over two of the top three wrestlers behind him in the rankings — Ohio State’s Lance Palmer and Penn State’s Frank Molinaro — it seems the national title is already in his grasp. All the senior has to do is make sure it isn’t wrenched from him.

But winning the championship won’t exonerate last year’s shortcoming.

“I don’t know if vindication is the right word,” he said. “I think it’s more you go out, set a goal, and you want to be the national champion at your weight class. If you get it, and you do that, you can feel good about the fact that you set out to do something and did it.”

Brands said he doesn’t see last year’s season-ending loss to North Carolina State’s Darrion Caldwell burning inside the senior, but Metcalf admits it’s in the back of his mind.

“Last year plays in to the motivation, the fact that you don’t get what you want the year before,” the Davison, Mich., native said. “But even if you did, you still have to be motivated. I’m motivated by a lot of things — probably the most is just the will to win and the will to be the No. 1 guy at the end of the year.”

After an immensely successful three years at Iowa, Metcalf won’t be satisfied without a career-ending title.

“It’s important because it’s the national championship,” he said. “It’s important because it’s what this sport is defined by, and it’s important because it’s what you want.”

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