Top-ranked Hawkeye grapplers lose on Feb. 23


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One Missouri Tiger had wanted his matchup since he first became a college wrestler. The other one lost track of time in the midst of what might be his biggest college win.

Both Alan Waters and Kyle Bradley produced big upsets on Feb. 23 to lead No. 6 Missouri over No. 2 Iowa, 18-16, for third-place at the National Duals. The two top-ranked Hawkeyes they beat — Matt McDonough and Derek St. John — had shown more vulnerability than usual leading up to the National Duals.

It took the pair of Tigers to expose those susceptibilities on a national stage.

“It’s no surprise. We stuck with our game plans,” Missouri head wrestling coach Brian Smith said. “We believed we could win that match. It wasn’t like this was a surprise to us.”

Waters, ranked fourth nationally at 125-pounds, had been looking forward to a bout with McDonough since he watched the Hawkeye win last year’s national title. The Kansas City, Mo., native has climbed up toward the top of the rankings, despite still looking for his first All-American honors.

The lack of such accolades didn’t stop Waters. His confidence was clear from the opening whistle. He used a quick head-tie to push McDonough off balance and dropped to a low single-leg takedown for an early 2-point advantage. Waters kept McDonough flat by riding tough on top, and by the end of the first period, Waters held a 2-0 lead with more than two minutes of riding-time.

Many Hawkeye wrestling observers have seen McDonough bounce back from a tough opening period in the past. They might remember him scoring quick takedowns and riding tough on top to erase such deficits or even do just enough to gut out a close victory as regulation expired or in overtime.

But Waters escaped from the bottom quickly in the second period and fought his way through the final two periods to win, 4-0. A telling sign that McDonough might lose was when he chose neutral to begin the third period rather than choosing bottom to try for an escape.

“I think top is one of my stronger positions,” Waters said. “I can understand why he’d want to choose neutral in that third period because he was flat that whole third period.”

Bradley, ranked 19th at 157-pounds, was trying to bounce back after losing to Oklahoma State’s Alex Dieringer, 6-2, earlier on Feb. 23. Assistant Missouri wrestling coach Mark Ellis approached Bradley after that loss and told the junior to keep believing that good things will happen.

The strategy worked. Bradley entered his matchup with Iowa’s St. John with a winning demeanor. He kept the match scoreless after the first period, halting St. John’s offense. They traded escapes in the next two periods before St. John scored a takedown late in the third — something Iowa wrestling fans had seen many times that resulted in an close victory for him.

But Bradley kept wrestling. He escaped quickly thereafter, cutting the lead to 3-2. The St. Peters, Mo., native locked up a double-leg with about 15 seconds remaining, and dropped St. John for a takedown. Bradley rode out St. John as the final seconds ticked off the clock and clinched the 4-3 upset.

He stood up and flexed his arms at his head coach before pointing to the small Missouri contingent that was going bonkers for his victory.

“I don’t even know what happened in the match, to tell you the truth,” Bradley said. “I just went out and wrestled … I just stuck with the game plan, and it worked out.”

It seemed as if the two upsets set the tone for the rest of the dual, where an already-slumping Iowa wrestling team never recovered. Hawkeye sophomore Mike Evans, who won his match over Missouri’s Todd Porter, 5-2, said those two matches shouldn’t have any effect on the team as a whole — even though they seemed to have done just that.

“You have to worry about yourself.” Evans said. “Sometimes I feel like we take McDonough, or somebody who’s a leader on the team, and we look at their matches like maybe we have to compete the same way. Baloney.”

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