CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – There wasn’t much to say about the final round and plenty to forget.
Members of the University of Iowa wrestling certainly didn’t want to discuss it afterward.
The Hawkeyes dropped all four finals matches Sunday at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships hosted by the University of Illinois at Assembly Hall, finishing third with 133 1/2 points in the conference tournament for the second straight year. Penn State won its third straight team title with 151 points, 12 ahead of runner-up Minnesota.
Iowa challenged for the team lead, opening with a strong consolation round and pulling with a half-point of Penn State. Then things turned against the Hawkeyes, who posted a 3-6 record in the final round.
“It’s not rocket science,” Iowa Coach Tom Brands said. “We have to be tougher. There’s more involved, but we have to finish certain things to be tougher.”
For the first time since his freshman year, Matt McDonough did not finish on the top step of the conference podium. McDonough’s nemesis, Illinois sophomore Jesse Delgado, prevented the senior from becoming the 19th Hawkeye to win three Big Ten titles.
McDonough, a four-time conference finalist looking to become a four-time NCAA finalist and three-time national champion, was one of a handful of Hawkeyes who declined interviews. His disappointment was evident by apparently throwing his medal away after the awards ceremony.
Delgado (20-3) said his quickness was a factor in scoring a takedown in the first two periods and two in the final frame for a 10-4 win.
“I think I’m a lot faster than he is,” said Delgado, who was named Outstanding Wrestler of the tournament. “He relies on funk and countering guys. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Delgado has a 3-2 advantage in matches against McDonough in college, including a 2-0 mark this year. he is the only college wrestler to beat him more than once. Delgado considered the idea he has a mental edge on McDonough.
“It seems like it,” Delgado said. “That’s just me wrestling for seven minutes. I think when I do that it doesn’t matter if I have a mental edge on him or not. I’m going to beat anyone I want like that when I’m wrestling my best.”
McDonough (20-3) has to execute against Delgado, elongating him when he shoots and work his effective go-behinds.
“The key is going to be stopping him,” Brands said about Delgado’s initial shots. “There are certain things he knows he has to do but he’s not doing them.”
The Hawkeyes’ Tony Ramos (26-1) faced a similar situation, wrestling an opponent who has had his number. Ramos was looking to avenge last year’s Big Ten finals loss to Ohio State’s top-ranked Logan Stieber (22-0).
Stieber, who beat Ramos three times last year, scored a takedown with four seconds remaining in sudden victory overtime for a 3-1 win and a second straight 133-pound title. It was his first loss of the season.
“I have to create more opportunities just by attempting shots,” Ramos said. “I know the shots I did take he was off-balance.
“I have to get there better.”
He needed a little stronger defense keep Stieber at bay. Ramos was able to fight off a takedown attempt in the final seconds of regulation, but Stieber got a leg in the overtime and finished for the win.
“I let him get in too deep,” Ramos said. “I was fighting and he came up to a bearhug.”
The difference in previous meetings haven’t been on their feet, but on the mat. This time, Ramos closed the gap, riding Stieber longer and escaping from underneath. Ramos drew a positive from that and gained a bit of confidence, heading to the NCAA tournament.
“I know bottom is not an issue any more,” Ramos said. “There’s improvement. It’s getting close everytime. Now, I have two weeks to get it right.”
Not only did Stieber thwart Ramos’ bid for a title, he helped fuel the fire for Mark Ballweg’s 141-pound finals foe. Stieber’s brother, Hunter, earned his second win over third-seeded Ballweg (21-5) this season, tallying three takedowns in an 8-3 triumph.
Hunter Stieber (31-0) received a boost from his sibling’s overtime win.
“I was so excited to go out and wrestle,” Hunter Stieber said. “I had to calm down a little bit, because I didn’t want to waste too much energy. When he wins like that it’s awesome.”
Mike Evans (19-4) was the fourth and final Hawkeye runner-up. Evans surrendered a five-point move to Penn State’s Matt Brown (25-4) in the second period and lost the 174-pound championship match, 7-3.
“It was a more of a counter than anything,” Brown said. “I was trying to hand-fight the whole match and kind of fell right into it.”
Iowa powered its way through the consolation semifinals to open the day. The Hawkeyes were 5-0, receiving pins from Derek St. John (26-2) at 157 and 184-pounder Ethen Lofthouse (17-7), who both placed third. Bobby Telford (19-6) was third at heavyweight. Nick Moore (17-8) at 165 and 197-pound freshman Nathan Burak (17-15) were fourth.
The Hawkeyes will send nine to the NCAA Championships March 21-23 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Advancements and adjustments will be off the mat, so they can finish on it.
“Of course they’re mental,” Brands said. “Even the gains we’ve made since Day one of this season, or in a career, are mental.”
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