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National Duals disappointing, but not crippling

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | FEBRUARY 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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The dual-meet portion of Iowa's wrestling season is over.

And if you're a Hawkeye fan, that's a good thing.

Iowa took a 16-15 loss to Minnesota in the National Duals semifinals on Sunday before beating Illinois, 28-6, to take third place in the tournament. It was the fourth dual defeat of the season for the Hawkeyes, who didn't lose a meet once over the previous three seasons.

It became clear over the course of the year that this Hawkeye team had too many holes in its lineup — and suffered injuries to a few too many key wrestlers — to beat the nation's best teams.

All that remains in Iowa's schedule now are the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. In a tournament setting, balance and depth are less important than stud wrestlers who can place high.

The Hawkeyes have a few of those. And while a team loss to the Gophers — and a third-place finish — may have been a disappointment, it was a good day for most of them.

The biggest statement of the day came from Matt McDonough, the nation's top-ranked 125-pound wrestler. McDonough beat No. 2 Zach Sanders of Minnesota, 7-4. It was the second time this season (and sixth in his career) that McDonough has beaten Sanders. Then he avenged his only loss of the year, an early season upset to Illinois' Jesse Delgado. McDonough, a 2010 NCAA champion and 2011 finalist, beat Delgado, 6-3, this time.

The pair of wins leaves little doubt that McDonough is the country's best wrestler at his weight. It will be a shock if anybody else wins the conference or national title at 125.

The other two of Iowa's dominant three lower weights also won big matches. Tony Ramos and Montell Marion each faced tough matches against twin brothers Chris and Nick Dardanes, both ranked in the top eight nationally. Ramos and Marion both scraped out overtime victories. Ramos then beat the Illini's B.J. Futrell, ranked fourth in the nation.

McDonough, Ramos, and Marion are the three Hawkeyes with the best chances of winning a national title. And all three had impressive wins on Sunday that should position them well in terms of Big Ten Tournament seeding.

Also continuing a strong run of late was 174-pounder Ethen Lofthouse. Lofthouse had been inconsistent for much of the season, but the eighth-ranked sophomore picked up two dominant wins over relatively weak opponents last weekend in Ames. And on Sunday, he earned a 4-3 upset over Minnesota's fifth-ranked Logan Storley and a 4-2 decision over No. 9 Jordan Blanton of Illinois.

The two big wins are encouraging signs that Lofthouse, who has looked like a fringe All-American at best for most of the season, could make a run at a high NCAA Tournament finish.

Yearlong struggles at the 149 and 197 classes, injuries at 157 and 184, and a slump at heavyweight meant that the Hawkeyes weren't an elite dual-meet team. But Hawkeye fans can still look forward to strong individual performances from the team's stars. And based on Sunday's results, that's what they'll get.

Follow DI wrestling reporter Sam Louwagie on Twitter.


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