IOWA CITY — It was a moment Matt McDonough attempted to put behind him soon after it happened.
The only problem was someone’s accomplishment at his expense gained national attention. The University of Iowa junior’s rare loss came at the wrong time against the wrong opponent, posterizing McDonough during national media’s love affair with former Arizona State NCAA champion Anthony Robles, a one-legged wrestler who dethroned McDonough and capped his college career with an undefeated 2011 season.
Awards shows came and went. Video highlights of the championship bout that seemed to be on a constant loop on television did as well. Robles became a national figure for his achievement with McDonough serving as his springboard into the limelight.
A year later and reminders exist.
“I was told last night there was a picture on the NCAA website of him beating me,” McDonough said. “You’ve got to accept things like that and use it as fuel. You have to make yourself impervious to that and go in there with the right mindset.”
McDonough will return to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in search of regaining the 125-pound national title when they begin Thursday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Mo. He faces Eastern Michigan’s Jared Germaine (23-9) in the first round, beginning at 11 a.m.
McDonough won the 125-pound crown in 2010 as a freshman. After last year’s loss to Robles, he had to balance the feelings of disappointment with the desire to advance, using it as motivation.
“It never goes away. it sticks with you,” McDonough said. “You have to block it out 10 minutes after it happened. The only way you improve and get better is to move on as soon as you possibly can.
“I took my time after the match to feel that remorse for the way I competed, but now it’s another stage, another event and time to move on.”
Easier said then done with the instant media barrage, replaying Robles’ conquest. The following day McDonough overheard someone at breakfast raving about Robles unaware of McDonough’s presence.
“I was sitting next to him talking about how amazing that was of what (Robles) did,” McDonough said. “Those kinds of things stick with you. They make you realize just how hard you’ve got to go to get what you want.”
As with many of his few college losses, McDonough went right back to work, trying to correct mistakes and fine-tune his attack. He remained exposed to his setback, and Brands said McDonough eventually made light of making someone’s highlight reel.
“If you don’t want to be a lowlight then be a highlight and be a highlight by wrestling dynamic and hitting explosive holds and putting guys down hard so when the camera’s running they’ll capture that and remember it,” said Brands, noting McDonough has a history of turning around stumbles in competition. “Then they’ll duplicate it over and over again.”
The last 12 months have gone fast to Brands and McDonough, who admitted redemption seemed far away last year in Philadelphia.
“While it’s happening, you think it’s a year away and boom it’s already here again,” McDonough said. “It really hasn’t seemed like it’s gone by slow, by any means. You try to get as much done as you can. A year is a long time to make improvements.”
What’s at stake is a third straight finals appearance and a second NCAA title. Another championship will make him Iowa’s 16th two-time NCAA champion and 22nd overall with more than one title. McDonough’s step toward title contention began at the end of his red-shirt season when he decided to cut from 133 to 125, wrestling at a lower weight as a red-shirt freshman than a senior at Linn-Mar High School. He monitored his weight year-round and dropped to fill a hole in the Hawkeyes lineup.
“It wasn’t a matter of that’s the only way I’m going to be able to wrestle for the University of Iowa,” said McDonough, a three-time state champion and four-time state medalist for the Lions. “It was a matter of I thought I could make 125 and I can be the best in the country and I’m going to set out to do it. Nothing’s going to stand in my way.”
Brands said McDonough’s talent has been enhanced by a strong work ethic. His success is more a product of that hard work.
Brands doesn’t compare current and past Hawkeyes and their accomplishments, leaving that to fans and followers. He pointed out that nothing has been accomplished this season, and legacy talk is premature.
“I know he’s unique in that you don’t see guys march to that type of drummer very much. When you have it it’s special. When you have it you should enjoy it as a coach even,” Brands said. “It’s not time to let off the accelerator. It’s time to fricking accelerate.”
McDonough is 31-1 and the top seed for the first time. He has avenged his only loss — to Illinois freshman Jesse Delgado — twice this season and has three wins over Minnesota’s No. 2 Zach Sanders. A target is affixed to his back, but it is no different than the target on anyone else with 33 wrestlers eyeing the same prize.
“I want it just as bad as any other guy in that bracket,” McDonough said. “They’re going to have to go through me and I’m going to have to go through them to get what I want.”
It could also completely soothe the sting and put 2011 in the past.