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For Iowa coach Tom Brands, 2008 was a good year.
Scratch that ... 2008 was a good year for Iowa in general.
The Hawkeyes, led by individual champions Brent Metcalf and Mark Perry led from early in the tournament and kept the lead the entire way and won their first team title since 2000 with 117.5 team points, outdistancing second-place Ohio State, who finished with 79 points.
Metcalf beat Penn State's Bubba Jenkins 14-8 in the finals at 149 pounds and was voted the tournament's outstanding wrestler.
Brands also was voted the NWCA Coach of the Year.
“It’s nice to see a lot of hardware,” said Brands with a grin.
"Wrestling in the finals is why you come to this tournament. Our guys came in here to work," said Brands. "Our fans are the best in the nation. They’re educated, and with that, comes expectations."
Brands has fielded repeated questions about Iowa and is the program "back."
"That’s for you guys to decide, I get asked that question all the time. All I know is, I feel good about the program," he said.
Mark Perry won his second NCAA title and won his fouth career medal, besting another four-time placer, Michigan's Eric Tannenbaum, 4-2 in the finals at 165 pounds.
Ohio State finished with two champs and three finalists and finished the highest in program history. J Jaggers bested Chad Mendes of Cal Poly 5-1 in the finals at 141 pounds and Mike Pucillo edged Iowa State's Jake Varner on riding time in the second tie-breaker to win at 184 pounds. Runner-up J.D. Bergman fell in overtime to Dustin Fox of Northwestern at heavyweight.
Cornell's Jordan Leen was the lowest seed to win a title. The #8 beat Illinois' Mike Poeta at 157 pounds to become only the second NCAA champion from the state of Tennessee.
Penn State, sixth in the Big Ten two weeks ago, finished third, led by champion Phil Davis at 197 pounds.
Oklahoma State only crowned one champion -- four-time All-American Coleman Scott -- at 133 pounds.
Pittsburgh's Keith Gavin topped Steve Luke of Michigan at 174 to finish the season undefeated.
Angel Escobedo of Indiana topped Jayson Ness of Minnesota at 125 pounds.
Angel Escobedo (Indiana) DEC Jayson Ness (Minnesota) 10-3
Escobedo went up 2-0 on a single and Ness tried to pick the ankle, but Escobedo powers through at :44. Ness got free late in the period as fans started to call for stalling as Escobedo didn't bring Ness back immediately. In the second, Ness gets ridden for a minute and is cut free to tie the score with 1:45 to. Ness in deep on a shot and can't finish with :10 to go. In the third, Escobedo starts down and Ness clears the riding time and neither wrestler really moves. Ness hit for stalling, gets two and two at the buzzer, one more point for riding time and a 10-3 win and Escobedo is the champion at 125 pounds.
Escobedo's title is the third in four years for Indiana at 125 pounds. Joe Dubuque won titles at 125 in 2005 and 2006.
Indiana moves into 12th place with four team points.
Escobedo moved to 3-0 against Ness, with two wins coming in the nation's biggest collegiate post-season tournaments.
"I was looking for my primary shot, my double leg, and it worked in freestyle when I wrestled him," said Ness. "I knew he was going to be coming after me, if I caught him at the right moment, I was going to be able to catch him with my double."
Escobedo donned a shoulder brace for the semis and finals, but said he wasn't thinking about his injury prior to the finals.
"It was hurting throughout the whole tournament," said Escobedo. "But once you're in the finals, nothing hurts anymore."
Coleman Scott (Oklahoma State) FALL Joey Slaton (Iowa) :49.
Scott goes in deep for the single and locks up a cradle. Slaton trying to scoot away to the edge and Scott drives to keep him in, gets the turn referee Mike McCormick slaps the mat for the fall at :49. Crowd erupts and Scott is beside himself in glee.
The fall gives Oklahoma State six points and moves them from eighth place into a tie for third with 72 points.
Afterwards, Scott was still choked up about winning his first title after placing second, third and eighth in his first three seasons.
"I felt great tonight, prepared, did everything right. And coach always stressed talking someone to their back, get the pin. Those bonus points are big. Just felt that tonight," said Scott.
Scott hit a simple move which led to the cradle.
"Just hit a left-handed high crotch, swim for the head, got the crackdown right to the low leg cradle, just been working on it and it came through," said Scott. "This is what you dream about, you know?"
Scott's still realistic when he figures out how he ranks among the all-time greats in Cowboy wrestling.
"I wouldn't put myself among the best in OSU history," he said. "There's a lot of guys that are a lot better than me. But it's an awesome feeling."
J Jaggers (Ohio State) DEC Chad Mendes (Cal Poly) 5-1
Jaggers scores first with an escape 11 seconds into the second period. The two didn't do much attacking in the first period. Mendes gets in deep, dropping Jaggers to his butt and Jaggers locks around the waist and holds off as the score as the buzzer sounds. Mendes gets free and Mendes initiates the offense and Jaggers creates a scramble, gets two and two in a head to toe situation. A 5-1 lead for Jaggers with :16 to go. Injury time. Jaggers limping badly. Escape Mendes and Jaggers is was an unlikely champion but wrestled a tremendously great tournament and wrestled like a champion.
Ohio State moves into second place with 75 points and put three in the finals for the first time in school history.
Jaggers was aware of Mendes' deadly mixer.
"I wouid say that I was a little frightened of his cement mixer, but my main goal was to get out from under as fast as I could," said Jaggers. "I didn't want to get rolled through. It was a very tactical match and that when I got him in the double, had to get around the corner on him."
Jaggers has placed twice since head coach Tom Ryan arrived in Columbus.
"I just knew from talking to him that he's an unbelievable motivator," said Jaggers. "The unselfishness of everyone involved in the program -- there's a buzz around the state like there's never been before."
Brent Metcalf (Iowa) DEC Bubba Jenkins (Penn State) 14-8
Jenkins scores first coming out from a scramble on a Metcalf single attempt. Jenkins gets about 17 seconds of riding time before kicking Metcalf out. Jenkins in on a single on the edge from a passby initiation and Jenkins leads 4-1. Metcalf out to cut the lead in half. In the second, Metcalf out to cut it to 4-3 and then takes the lead with a snatch single. Metcalf cuts Jenkins loose to tie the score and gets in deep with a lighthing quick single, lifting Jenkins and Jenkins fights it off. Metcalf again, with a lift and spiking Jenkins to the mat and ends up with two and three to lead 10-5 at the end of the second. Jenkins gets free and Metcalf with another high-c and takedown, and another takedown and escape for a 14-8 final and the Hawkeyes first champion of the night.
The win extends Iowa's lead to 113.5-75 over second-place Ohio State.
Metcalf found himself in a closer match than the previous two, in which he dominated Jenkins, winning by fall and then by major decision. No fist-pumping celebration for Metcalf though.
"There will be plenty of time for celebreation, but it's after the match," said Metcalf.
It was the conclusion of a long, tumultuous championship journey for Metcalf, starting back with signing with Virginia Tech and then all the drama that ensued.
"Really, it was a great opportunity for me to train at the highest level and get better," said Metcalf. "It's a different atmosphere but I really gained a lot in those two years and couldn't have asked for any other options. It worked out best for me."
Team wise, Metcalf was stoked.
"You couldn't have it any better," he said. "It was good for our team to come out and perform like we did. It was a great season."
"We have had a dramatic change from what we had last year," he said.
Jordan Leen (Cornell) DEC Mike Poeta (Illinois) 5-4
Leen strikes first getting a takedown from a scramble and builds 35 seconds of riding time before Poeta breaks free to cut it to 2-1. In the second, Leen extends his lead with an escape and then attacks. Poeta hit for fleeing the mat just before Poeta reverses direction and tries to counter on the edge. Leen up 4-1 to start the third with Poeta on bottom. Poeta free and kicks up the tempo with a slick duck and and then cuts Leen rather than ride him the last 45 seconds. Poeta charging but Leen countering and nearly puts another takedown. Leen wins the NCAA title from the #8 seed, continuing what's already been a wild and crazy year.
Leen wins the NCAA championship two weeks after losing in the finals of the EIWA Tournament to Lehigh's Dave Nakasone.
"It was obviously crushing at the time, but it's something I got to learn from," said Leen of his loss coming into the NCAA tournament. "(I had to) be able to learn from that match and really fine tune my focus, I felt very, very focused this week, I was never distracted. That loss really helped me become more keen."
Leen, almost dazed after picking up the victory, was still in a celebratory daze afterwards.
"I'm kind of a mess right now," said Leen. "I just feel so lucky ... I know I didn't deserve any more than the eight other guys in that bracket, it just happened to be my weekend."
"I felt good (physically) ... I was just going there without being dinged up, and these were the five toughest matches of my life," he said. "And I was at my best (because) I felt fresh."
Mark Perry (Iowa) DEC Eric Tannenbaum (Michigan) 4-2
Perry on the attack early, trying to head hunt on his low single. The two roll around and Perry sinks in a leg and gets control roughly 20 seconds in. Perry doing his trademark ride and Tannenbaum having trouble trying not to get stretched out. Fans clamoring for stalling. Official hits both for stalling ... yes, a double stall in the NCAA finals. Perry free to start the second and several scrambles have led to potentially dangerous calls, including one where Perry yells out and favors his injured right knee. Tannenbaum scored with a blast double to cut the lead to just one, but Perry's strong first-period of riding time stayed on the board and was locked up by the time Tannenbaum landed the double. Tannenbaum cut Perry loose but couldn't get close for any potential scores. Both end their careers as four-time All-Americans and Perry as a two-time NCAA champion.
Perry controlled the match from start to finish, despite a less than moving cat-and-mouse game from top and bottom from both wrestlers.
"The first takedown was big, that's being ready off the whistle," said Perry. "That's as solid as it gets for me, got an easy go behind. He didn't get to my leg from the start, and I felt like I did agreally good job the first period. I wish my knee wouldn't have popped bc he was in about to be in some real danger in that scramble."
Then, near disaster with a re-aggrivation of Perry's injured right knee.
"My knee popped on the inside and felt worse than it did the first time," said Perry. "I have to credit my coaches, installing in me that you can't quit. This isn't the way I wanted to finish my wrestling career, but I guess in a way, I've learned a lot. I found a way to win, the way things went for me, I had to find a way to win."
"I would never forfeit in the National Finals. The coaches told me to suck it up and stay solid. At first I was panicking, but they got me back on track."
Perry put team first as the Hawkeyes won their first NCAA team championship since 2000.
"Winning the team title is way more important for me than winning individual titles," said Perry. "I went 40-something days without getting on the mat one time, so I'm not going to lie – this feels really good considering all I've been through this season."
Keith Gavin (Pittsburgh) DEC Steve Luke (Michigan) 4-2
Luke was in on a single in the early going and netted no results, while Gavin couldn't finish on the edge late in the first. In the second, Gavin gets free and fires right back with a takedown on a slick pass-by. Luke gets free and cuts it to 3-1 with 1:20 left in the second. Luke starts on bottom and Gavin riding tough with some interesting ways of bringing Luke back to the mat. Luke is cut free with :20 to go after the riding time is secured. Gavin wins 4-2 and becomes Pittsburgh's first national champion since Pat Santoro in 1989.
Gavin has made the most of his years in Pittsburgh.
"Just that I was never a state champ in Pennyslvania ... got third in states. I wasn't a world beater coming into college.
" I just needed to find my style and find my niche. Had some confidnce issues because I was n't one of the top guys coming out of high school," said Gavin.
As if there wasn't enough experience from wrestling Ben Askren of Missouri in last year's finals, there was some added help.
"After last years finals, Ben invited me out to Missouri, and I went and worked out," said Gavin. "Thoughtout the season, we had each other's respect, our styles work out great. It's really good to have him every now and then. So I came out and trained a little bit."
But Gavin flourished under coach Rande Stottlemyer.
"(Pitt) just let me be myself, and I was experimenting," said Gavin. "It's a lot of trial and error (and I) trained with Matt Kocher the last year."
Mike Pucillo (Ohio State) DEC Jake Varner (Iowa State) 2-2, RT TB2
Jake Varner takes the lead with a second period escape, Mike Pucillo ties it up with a third period escape. End of regulation is tied up and we head to sudden victory. No scoring. Tie-breakers. Varner gets the escape 14 seconds into the period with a standing Granby. Pucillo gets out quicker and has :05 of riding time. End of the second :30. Sudden victory #2. Nothing really. Tiebreaker #2, Pucillo gets out, has 11 seconds to make up when it's his turn. Pucillo gets the win with an escape and a six-second differential in riding time.
Pucillo, an Ohio native, initially signed with Hofstra and redshirted his true freshman year. When Coach Tom Ryan left, Pucillo came with.
"Tom's a great coach, I went to Hofstra mainly because of that," said Pucillo. "I felt like it was a good decision."
Pucillo saddled Varner with his first loss of the season and won back to back overtime matches just to get there.
"I won my match in OT in the semis," said Pucillo. "I know that I'm pretty quick off bottom. I knew that if I was able to get off bottom in OT, I'd come out on top."
With Jaggers winning prior, Pucillo didn't think anything less than the "W" was acceptable.
"I saw J win his match, and just seeing how excited he was, I knew I couldn't come home with a second-place medal, I knew I had to win," he said.
Pucillo's win gave Ohio State its highest finish in school history, second to champion Iowa.
"If we can put up a fence around Ohio, we'll be competing with Iowa real soon," said Pucillo.
Phil Davis (Penn State) DEC Wynn Michalak (Central Michigan) 7-2.
Davis goes ahead after working out of a whizzer and taking control on a re-shot. Michalak gets out after 30 seconds and Davis on the attack and gets hit for stalling. End of the first. Davis rides for 20 more seconds to start the period and Michalak gets free to tie the score and then Davis counters a shot and gets two more and rides very tough and Michalak tries to work up. Davis gets free to start the third and then Michalak hit again for stalling, now 6-2 and riding time is locked up. Davis picks up the win and runs right to his mom for a hug.
Davis, leading in the third period, just didn't want to make mistakes.
"In the third, I couldn't actually figure out the score, I just didn't want to do anything stupid," said Davis.
The joy of victory hadn't yet set in for a wrestler who never won a high school state title or even a high school district title.
"It means a lot, but it'll mean a lot more the further removed I get from this moment," said Davis. "It's definitely a little bit different coming from a place where wrestling isn't the main sport."
"It means a lot to have a national champ from Harrisburg High," said Davis.
Davis also pointed out he didn't tire himself out warming up this season. "The last time I was in the finals, I was on edge for seven straight bouts (before the final)," explained Davis. "It takes a toll on you. This time I was able to relax a little bit, watched Jenkins and then warmed up."
Davis ended his career a four-time All-American, joining Scott, Perry and Tannenbaum as four-time place-winners.
"I'm going to miss the great rivalries between teams. I have friends on every team, and it's just good fun."
Dustin Fox (Northwestern) DEC J.D. Bergman (Ohio State) 3-1, SV2
After trading escapes in regulation and again in the first tiebreaker period, Fox countered a Bergman offensive attempt with a re-shot of his own and finished a high single for a NCAA National Title.
While focused coming in, Fox nearly got sidetracked by a few different factors.
"It's like a dream come true," said Fox. "I probably just broke my nose and I'm tired, but it's all I can think about.
"Obviously I think I could have been more dominant, but J.D. is tough," he continued. "My gameplan was to ride him, but the flow of the match was broken up because of injuries and broken head gear."
Fox praised the Northwestern coaching staff and head coach Tim Cysewski.
"I almost lost my focus it several times, to be honest, but my coaches kept my focus – they kept me focued and I obviously owe a lot of my national title to them."
Cysewski had very simple praise for his second NCAA champion in as many years.
"He's very genuine, always open to suggestions," said Cysewski. "He's also probably the quickest 285-pounder with size 16 feet that you'll see."