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Marion’s loss brings the question: Is he a contender?

BY J.T. BUGOS | FEBRUARY 15, 2011 7:20 AM

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After losing to Michigan’s top-ranked Kellen Russell, is Montell Marion a true contender for the national title?

That seems to be a fair question given that four matches in, Marion has had two clashes against top-five opponents. It isn’t the biggest sample size, but it’s enough to determine if the junior can stand on the podium at season’s end.

When Marion returned to the mat for the Iowa wrestling program 16 days ago against then-No. 1 Penn State, it was his first action since March 20, 2010, when he fell to Cornell’s Kyle Dake in the 141-pound national championship.

He had spent eight months away from the program on “permanent suspension,” so when his first match was against then-No. 5 Andrew Alton, expectations had to be tempered — being rusty wouldn’t be an excuse, but it wasn’t unfair to think Marion wouldn’t be at the level of almost a year ago at the NCAA championships.

Wrong.

Marion stunned Alton for an 11-9 victory after falling into an early 5-0 hole.

Following two major-decision victories in the next two duals against Indiana and Purdue, Marion then matched up with Russell — the undefeated and top-ranked wrestler who had already bested No. 2 Mike Thorn of Minnesota twice.

The Hawkeye had proved in his first three matches back in the Black and Gold that there wasn’t any rust to shake off, and he was ready to pick up where he left off in Omaha last March. It was a huge test for the Des Moines native — one that could cement him as a contender or prove it was too soon to bestow a top-three ranking on him.

It turns out that even in a loss, Marion cemented himself as a contender.

There are no moral victories in the Iowa wrestling program, but Marion can take solace in the fact that the match was in his control until the final 25 seconds of the match.

Head coach Tom Brands said after the match that his grappler needed to be smarter at the end, but there are positives that come from the defeat.

“The important thing and the positive thing is that we were doing offense when we were ahead. That’s what’s key,” the fifth-year head coach said. “We’re even doing offense when were ahead 5-3 there. That being said, in the overtime, we needed to be more of a presence, more of a frame of mind … But I don’t fault Montell. I don’t fault him because we were going for points there.”

Another key will be how Marion responds. Will he use this loss as fuel like Matt McDonough has shown both this year and last year?

McDonough used a loss to Indiana’s Angel Escobedo in the finals of the Big Ten championships last season to vault him to the top of the podium at NCAAs. He used a loss to Northwestern’s Brandon Precin at the Midlands Championships this season to spark a streak of six-straight pins in Big Ten dual competition — including a fall over Precin.

Brands and the Hawkeye wrestlers know how to learn from their matches, but the question is if Marion can keep mentally strong.

“It’s a tough match. I’ve been in those situations,” McDonough said. “Moving on, building, and taking away the things that you need to take away from it. Realizing that it’s in your control. Next time out, put it in your control.”

Marion has shown the ability to put things in his control. He put his own life back in his control after his arrest in May 2010, boosting his academics and staying in Iowa City — despite the lack of a guarantee he could ever wear an Iowa singlet again.

That mental fortitude will help him on the journey to Philadelphia for the NCAAs — he still has to face Minnesota’s No. 2 Mike Thorn and navigate through the Big Ten championships — and Marion has shown he is capable of beating any wrestler in the country.

Look for Marion on the podium come March 19 — the Hawkeye is a contender.


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