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NCAA Championships: McDonough already looking ahead

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | MARCH 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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ST. LOUIS — Matt McDonough raised his arms in the air in celebration. He slapped both of head coach Tom Brands' hands in the corner. The newly crowned NCAA champion walked off the raised mat, gave an interview, and then jogged off into the tunnel.

McDonough kept jogging up and down a long hallway in the bowels of the Scottrade Center. He started running faster. He started sprinting.

The NCAA administrator in charge of ushering the national champion into the press conference room started to worry, perplexed as to why the grappler was cooling down as if he had another match the next day.

"Calm down, it's OK," head coach Tom Brands told him. "He'll be back."

McDonough, now a two-time NCAA champ, will indeed be back. He'll likely return to the same national stage in a year. And his dedication and desire to continue running after a win will take him there.

"He's getting ready for the next one," Brands said. "This is [already] his last year, so to speak. I like how he's thinking. Coming off the mat … he's thinking that way, right into the next step."

McDonough entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed, pinned two opponents in the early rounds and scored a major decision against another in the semis. He beat Penn State's Nico Megaludis, the No. 10 seed, by a 4-1 decision to take the title.

"Obviously, he's pretty good," Megaludis said before wrestling McDonough. "But I'm excited. He's going to wrestle hard for seven minutes. I'm going to wrestle hard for seven minutes. He's on a mission."

McDonough got to his mission early, grabbing Megaludis' leg in the first half of the first period. He worked the shot for more than 30 seconds with no results before Megaludis could slip out of bounds. The first period ended scoreless, but the Hawkeye scored early in the second on an escape.

Megaludis showcased his flexibility throughout the second period when McDonough made several shots but found Megaludis in the splits instead of down on the mat. The period ended with the Hawkeye ahead only 1-0.

The nimble Nittany Lion escaped quickly in the third period, but McDonough lunged forward immediately on a shot. He muscled his away around Megaludis' flexibility and scored the match-winning takedown. A riding-time point gave him the 4-1 victory.

"You get it on the leg, and your mind says, man, he's flexible, he's strong," McDonough said. "But your heart says, 'I'm not coming away with no takedown. I'm not getting a stalemate. I'm ending it right here.' "

It wasn't a spectacular match; there were no jaw-dropping shots or mind-blowing takedowns. And yet everyone — Iowa and the rest of the nation alike — knows McDonough will come back even stronger his senior year.

It's because he's a wrestler.

"The sport of wrestling is a lifestyle like no other sport," McDonough said. "You have to live it, eat it, breathe it. Every aspect of your life has to include wrestling."

Brands said McDonough stands out in the program because of his all-encompassing, complete obsession with the sport.

"When you're walking out of this arena, is your mind still working on wrestling — that's McDonough," Brands said. "When you're driving home, you're thinking of meal recovery and the right fuel in you. You don't necessarily do what you feel like doing. You can have rewards, but you've got to be 24/7 in your mind."

McDonough will leave a legacy in the Iowa wrestling program, an effect more prominent than his name on the wall — which now appears twice under both "Big Ten Champion" and "National Champion."

McDonough's résumé is impressive — the finals win was the 100th of his career with only four losses — but his attitude will leave a longer-lasting impression.

"That thought crossed my mind today: How are you going to make your legacy? How are you going to set your mark in the program?" he said. "… I want to be in that group that keeps getting smaller and smaller. That three-time NCAA championship group is even smaller.

"… It's not over yet. I'm not done yet. I still got a year left to go. Moving forward from right now on."


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