St. John, Ramos begin road back to the NCAAs


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One Iowa wrestler finished last season with a win. Another finished with a loss. One of them came home a national champion, and the other came up 3 points short.

Tony Ramos and Derek St. John were the last two Hawkeye wrestlers to take the mat in the 2012-13 season. They combined to compile a 61-4 record during the regular season. But their final matches ended differently, causing the two to take different off-season paths and preseason approaches for the upcoming season.

“It’s not about putting the singlet on and just running out there,” Iowa wrestling coach Tom Brands said. “It’s about putting the singlet on, getting ready, and then running out there and putting points on the board.”

Ramos was on the losing end of a 7-4 decision that decided the 133-pound NCAA title. It was just his second loss of the season — both of which came from Ohio State’s Logan Stieber.

The always-exuberant Ramos spent his entire junior season working to prepare for his matches with Stieber, an opponent he has never been able to beat. Ramos racked up 14 pins last year — which accounted for 47-percent of his wins — with the hopes of sending a message to the Buckeye.

After losing, Ramos took time off but didn’t take too much longer to get back into the practice room. He continued his normal training regimen, not wanting to break from what worked last season. He helped work a few wrestling camps here and there to help fine-tune his technique.

“I never really fully left,” Ramos said. “Doing camps helps your technique get even better because you have to break things down and teach them to other people. That helps you.”

Ramos said on Thursday, during the team’s media day, that staying in shape helped immensely when he competed at the National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic, a preseason exhibition that featured some of the nation’s best wrestlers.

When he was initially contacted for the event, Ramos asked if he could wrestle Stieber, a sign the competitor inside him still yearned to avenge last March’s loss. When he was told he couldn’t wrestle Stieber — who is slated to wrestle at 141 pounds this season — Ramos asked if he could wrestle Oklahoma’s Kendric Maple, last season’s 141-pound national champ.

Ramos was denied that match, too. Officials later decided that Maple and Stieber would wrestle each other in the exhibition at 149 pounds. Ramos wrestled Virginia Tech’s Devin Carter instead, and won 5-3 in overtime.

Though he did win (even bumped up a weight class to wrestle Carter), Ramos is still not satisfied. He keeps his silver NCAA trophy from last season with a collection of his other wrestling awards. He is more motivated to finish what he started last year each time he sees it.

“I don’t know if the kid can physically work any harder,” 174-pounder Mike Evans said. “Until he proves me wrong, of course.”

St. John, meanwhile, also took time off after clinching his first NCAA title with a 3-2 decision over Northwestern’s Jason Welch, an opponent he has never lost to during his college career. St. John relaxed some but was also back in the practice room to begin training for this season.

He spent his off-season wrestling in a few freestyle tournaments. He kept in shape this way and continued to fine-tune his technique — freestyle, one of the Olympic styles of wrestling, is eerily similar to folkstyle, which is wrestled in the winter months.

St. John, a product of Iowa City West, spent most of last season as the top-ranked wrestler at 157 pounds. Though he dropped two matches — once at the National Duals and again at the Big Ten championships — St. John finished where he started. He’s been pegged as the nation’s top-ranked 157-pounder again this season.

With that comes more pressure, though. Now that St. John has won a national title, he feels that the target on his back is bigger than it was last year. He realized this shortly after winning his last match back in March.

That realization kept the now-senior from celebrating too much after claiming the NCAA title. The normally reserved St. John packed up his first-place NCAA trophy in the box it came in and hid it in his closet.

He doesn’t want to see it. It just might make him complacent.

“You don’t want to really celebrate it until it’s over,” St. John said. “There’s another one to win out there. Maybe we’ll break it out after we won another one.”

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