Freshman wrestler learns from first loss

BY J.T. BUGOS | MARCH 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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Matt McDonough flung his headgear and sprinted off the mat, the thin legs of a 125-pounder carrying him into the deep recesses of the Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.

A winning streak of thirty-two had brought him to the pinnacle of his young career at the time: the finals of the Big Ten championships Sunday afternoon.

But 420 seconds later, McDonough was left grappling with his first loss of the season — a 6-4 decision to three-time Big Ten champion Angel Escobedo of Indiana. The 125-pounder said he felt angry after the defeat, but he gained confidence knowing he nearly took down the 2008 national champion.

“You have a close match like that, you know you didn’t wrestle your perfect match as good as you could have, and there’s room to improve,” the redshirt freshman said. “It just shows that you shoulda, coulda, woulda beat him then. Next time, make it happen. You have that chance, capitalize on it.”

The Marion native is trying to spin his first collegiate loss into an advantage for the NCAA championships, which begin on March 18 in Omaha’s Qwest Center. He said he has watched tape of his defeat and has seen mistakes that will help him next time he steps on the mat.

Illustrating his ability to turn scrambles into points this season, McDonough said if he took one thing away from his redshirt season, it was never to give up on a position.

But on Sunday, he ran into a wrestler who proved just as capable.

“I think that I rushed a finish like that against a good guy,” he said. “They know how to fight it right away, and if they get you in a position where they can get you in a stalemate, that’s what they’re going to do. … You have to stick to what you’re doing in every match and not deviate from the plan just because the guy is high-caliber.”

Iowa head coach Tom Brands has already seen his grappler learn from his 32 wins and said he knows McDonough will make gains from his loss.

“Things are magnified for him in matches, more so than in the practice room, which is good,” the fourth-year Iowa head coach said. “He gets ready for matches and is more of a match-type wrestler. He adapts pretty well.”

Senior 133-pounder Daniel Dennis described McDonough as “tough as nails” and already sees his teammate as a leader on the team — especially for fellow underclassmen.

“He’s a relentless competitor who likes to push himself, who expects a lot out of himself,” Dennis said. “And rightfully so. I mean look at what the kid has done. He’s extremely competitive, and I think that having him step in as a freshman has been huge for our team.”

After falling short of his Big Ten title aspirations in his first postseason, it wouldn’t be unfair to suspect McDonough might be nervous heading into his first national championship meet. However, he insists he isn’t overwhelmed and even said he lives for the pressure.

His match against Escobedo provided familiarity with an opponent he may run into again at nationals.

“You have to go out there in the national tournament with the intent to beat those returning national champions and the top-ranked guys in the country,” he said. “But on the other hand, there’s nothing that can beat getting the chance to feel what someone is like before the NCAA end-all, be-all tournament. It was very helpful, and I’ll take from it what I will.”

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