McDonough falls in title match, Iowa wrestling finishes third at NCAAs

BY J.T. BUGOS | MARCH 21, 2011 7:20 AM

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PHILADELPHIA — Iowa’s Matt McDonough ran on to the raised platform of the Wells Fargo Center amid mixed reviews to his announcement for the 125-pound championship match. Hawkeye fans could be heard cheering, but boos were audible from many in the crowd of 17,687.

McDonough was in pursuit of his second-straight national title — another trophy to go with the one he earned as a redshirt freshman last season.

But his story of incredible early career success was overshadowed by the one wrestler who used crutches to get to the mat — Arizona State’s Anthony Robles.

Robles was born without a right leg and didn’t take up wrestling until his freshman year in high school. He took center stage in the midst of an undefeated senior season, and, as he said after his semifinal match, McDonough was the only thing that stood in the way of him reaching his trophy.

Only one story line could win out — and Robles captured his first national championship on March 19 with a 7-1 victory over McDonough.

“It was huge,” Robles said. “I had a lot of butterflies going out there. I’ve dreamt about stepping on that stage a dozen times, and this whole year, I’ve just been preparing for that moment. And I was scared. I was scared out there, but as soon as I hit that first takedown, I sort of relaxed.”

Robles’ takedown — the only one of the match — came just 44 seconds into the bout. The Sun Devil tilted McDonough twice in the first period, once for 2 near-fall points and another time for 3 back points, to build a 7-0 lead after the first period.

McDonough was able to force two stall calls in the third period for a point, but by the time he got comfortable wrestling Robles, it was too little, too late.

“First time wrestling a tough opponent like that, it’s quite obvious there’s a difference in style of someone that has one leg and a large upper body as opposed to anyone else in the country,” McDonough said. “It’s definitely not an experience to take lightly. Regardless of anything else, it’s not what I set out to accomplish this year. It’s not what I was looking to do.”

Iowa head coach Tom Brands said he doesn’t take anything away from Robles, and he doesn’t fault McDonough at all, either — Robles won fair and square, he said. And for those who may believe McDonough might fade after such a disheartening loss, Brands knows otherwise.

“McDonough is a unique individual,” the fifth-year head coach said. “This loss won’t derail him. This loss is something that will stay with him a long time and haunt him.”

McDonough was Iowa’s only finalist, but four other Hawkeyes earned All-American status in the squad’s third-place finish: Montell Marion (141 pounds), Derek St. John (157), Grant Gambrall (184), and Luke Lofthouse (197). Gambrall placed third, Marion and St. John finished fourth, and Lofthouse took home fifth.

The team has plenty to build on, Brands said, and the Hawkeyes can’t forget about their experience in Philadelphia. The head coach has always talked about crowning champions, and as he pointed out after McDonough’s loss, Iowa doesn’t have one.

“We earned what we got, and we got third in the tournament as a team,” Brands said. “Our guys pretty much earned what they got in their individual performances. I think we underachieved, that’s how much I believe in our guys.”

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