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Wrestler Marion looking for strong finish to rocky career

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | FEBRUARY 01, 2012 7:20 AM

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Two full periods had ticked off the clock, and Montell Marion hadn't scored a single point.

He trailed Minnesota freshman Nick Dardanes, 1-0. Marion allowed a second-period escape and had been strangely hesitant to attack his opponent. The Iowa senior and two-time All-American faked shots at Dardanes' legs, bobbed his head, and moved around. But as the seconds ticked off the clock, the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd began to murmur in concern that Marion wasn't ever going to just go.

Finally, he went.

Marion unleashed a single-leg shot so quickly it was startling in its contrast to his earlier inactivity. He picked up a takedown and a 3-1 lead, which became a too-close 3-2 victory.

"There needs to be more urgency," head coach Tom Brands said. "If he thinks he's just going to go through it, and be laissez-faire, and just use his athleticism … He has to let it fly. He's got a lot of ability, a lot of potential. A lot of firepower.

"We really haven't seen it all year."

Marion and the Hawkeyes are hoping the end of his career in March will reflect many of his matches this season: bumpy, featuring moments of doubt, but ultimately with his hand raised in victory.

"I have a lot of stuff that I haven't gotten done that I hope to accomplish in the NCAAs," Marion said. "That's what's on my mind. Without accomplishing that, [there are] going to be a lot of regrets."

Chief among those things is likely a national championship. Marion wrestled in the 141-pound title match in March 2010 but lost.

Marion was arrested for drunk driving two months later. That arrest — combined with previous violations of the school's student-athlete code of conduct — was enough to get Marion kicked off the team.

He was banned from all team activities for eight months. But rather than transfer and compete at a different school, he stayed in Iowa City and persuaded the Athletics Department to reinstate him.

Marion rejoined the Hawkeyes in January 201; he went 13-5 and placed fourth at the NCAA Tournament.

"He has some demons that he's dealt with, and he's done a good job of dealing with them," Brands said. "He can be proud of that … I happen to be proud of Montell and believe in him."

Marion had another run-in with the law this season when he was arrested on Dec. 16 for driving while barred. The wrestler didn't know his license was suspended, he said, because the notice had been mailed to his old house. The school didn't discipline Marion for the misunderstanding.

The Des Moines native said he has "a different mindset" now. He said he knows better what type of people to hang out withand to avoid "going downtown and raising hell."

"I look back on my high-school days and I'm like, 'Man, I did some stupid things,' " he said. "Then I look back on my college days, and I'm like, 'Man, I did some stupid things.' That childish stuff is just not in me anymore."

Marion has changed his ways enough to be a Hawkeye wrestler in good standing. What he needs to change now, he said, is a tendency to let less-talented opponents keep matches close.

After the Minnesota dual, Hawkeye 125-pounder Matt McDonough praised underclassmen teammates for picking up crucial bonus points while Iowa's vaunted lower weights failed to do so.

One of those lower weights is Marion, who has seen his InterMat ranking fall from No. 1 to No. 7 this season despite posting a 20-2 record.

Marion dropped a 5-3 decision in the finals of the Midlands Tournament in December. Then he squeaked out close victories against opponents from Oklahoma State and Nebraska. He lost to Ohio State's Hunter Stiebler last weekend, then failed to earn a major decision against an unranked Penn State wrestler before squeaking out the 3-2 victory against Dardanes.

Marion has won five of his last seven matches, but only one of those wins was by more than 4 points.
He said he has been "a little disappointed" with his lack of big wins, blaming his tendency to hesitate too much early in matches and wait for a perfect opportunity rather than create his own.

"I like to pick perfect shots sometimes toward the beginning of a match," Marion said. "When I don't feel like it's perfect, I'll go in, and back out, and set up something else. It's about realizing not every shot is going to be perfect. Just getting in there, taking him down hard, and keeping him flat."

Driving him toward that improvement and the postseason success that may come with it, Marion said, is the knowledge that so many in the Hawkeye program have supported him.

"It's been a dramatic journey. It's been up and down," he said. "Looking back on this journey has helped a lot with my motivation. When you've got a lot of people backing you, you want to perform for those people."

Follow DI wrestling reporter Sam Louwagie on Twitter.


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