Commentary: Experience necessary in wrestling. Or is it?

BY J.T. BUGOS | MARCH 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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The thing about wrestling is that it requires experience. But the funny thing about wrestling is that experience isn’t necessary.

While contradictory, both of those statements were on display at the 2011 Big Ten championships in Evanston, Ill., this past weekend.

Experience is what helped Iowa’s Matt McDonough prevail in the 125-pound finals match. But a lack of experience didn’t stop Blake Rasing from capturing the heavyweight title for the Hawkeyes.

McDonough’s experience came from both a familiarity with his opponent and a familiarity with the setting. The sophomore had wrestled Northwestern’s Brandon Precin twice before the title bout, one match going to each wrestler. In both prior meetings, McDonough was unable to get to his offense — the first match at the Midlands Championships resulted in a 3-1 loss, and the second resulted in a win after McDonough was able to clamp on a headlock and flatten the Wildcat, but after Precin had built a lead.

On Sunday, McDonough’s experience allowed him to turn the tables on Precin. The Hawkeye got the first takedown and was able to adjust to Precin’s slow tempo to pull out the victory.

The familiarity with the setting also aided McDonough. He was one of three Iowa grapplers to have previously wrestled in the Big Ten meet, and last season’s loss to Indiana’s Angel Escobedo in the finals taught him valuable lessons — lessons he took with him to Omaha, where he won the national title last year, and to Evanston, Ill., this weekend, where he left Big Tens a champion instead of a runner-up.

Rasing showed that experience might as well be left on the bus.

Now to be fair, and because head coach Tom Brands would likely want this to be clear, experience isn’t saying Rasing or anyone else hasn’t been in tough matches — they have been tested. It’s that they don’t have any postseason matches on their résumés.

Back to Rasing, who had yet to step on the mat in the postseason and had only wrestled in one Big Ten dual in his career. He went out and won the title without giving up a single takedown and beat not only the second-place finisher (obviously), but the wrestlers who finished third and fourth as well. He even won the championship knowing Iowa didn’t have a chance to top the team standings without a victory from him.

Experience is necessary. Experience isn’t necessary. What really is necessary is adjustments, which can come with experience, or if you lack that, the propensity to listen to your coaches.

Rasing’s adjustment came from a simple bend of the knees, a change that made it difficult for his opponent to get into his legs and propelled him to three-straight wins to close out the regular season and, eventually, the title of the Big Ten’s top heavyweight.

Tony Ramos (133), another Hawkeye with no postseason experience, made mid-tournament adjustments to guide him to third place. He said he hadn’t been getting to his offense early in the championships, which showed in his loss to Wisconsin’s Tyler Graff, 3-1, in sudden victory. Brands told him he’s at his best when he’s attacking and dictating the tempo of the match, and that’s what Ramos did against Illinois’ B.J. Futrell — to whom Ramos lost at Midlands — when he captured third place.

Ultimately, experience doesn’t matter. It can help, as evidenced by McDonough, but he also proves the contrary with his run to the national title last year as a redshirt freshman. Five of the 10 champions at Big Tens were either freshmen or sophomores, and six more finalists fall into the same category.

Iowa’s NCAA championships results will depend on its adjustments, not its experience. As Brands like to say, the Hawkeyes just need to get tough in tough situations.

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