St. John Returns as Hawkeyes Hammer Badgers, 39-3
By KJ Pilcher, Reporter
IOWA CITY — University of Iowa wrestling fans waited a little longer for Derek St. John’s return, but it was worth it.
An extended delay before the 157-pound match ended with St. John emerging from the tunnel, removing his sweatshirt and then taking the Carver-Hawkeye Arena mat for the first time since suffering a knee injury on it in early December.
In just his second match since the injury, St. John was victorious, earning a 6-1 decision over Wisconsin’s Shawn Perry and helping the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes to a 39-3 Big Ten Conference home dual win Sunday in front of 6,809 spectators.
“It felt really good,” St. John said. “It felt good to be back.”
St. John looked rusty but good enough in his return, scoring takedowns in the first and third periods, adding 1:56 of riding time. He was letting his actions speak for where he stands physically.
“It’s not where it needs to be,” St. John said, “but it’s coming along pretty quick.”
He fared a lot better than his last return, when he aggravated the knee injury in a loss at Ohio State on Jan. 20. The setback caused him to be a bit gun-shy Sunday.
“I guess there was a little hesitation,” St. John said. “There can’t be hesitation or you’re going to get hurt again. We’ll have to work that out.”
Iowa Coach Tom Brands was confident St. John would return after his initial injury. He praised St. John’s toughness and determination to come back.
“It’s been day by day every day,” Brands said. “He’s trained very well. There’s been no hesitation on his part. There was a snag. Even after that snag, there was no hesitation on his part.”
St. John was informed Sunday morning that he would get the nod. Brands could accept the results.
“I don’t know,” Brands said. “I’m OK with it.
“I know he wants to score more.”
It appeared St. John wanted to score more, working for a major decision. Returning to match shape might take some time, and his lungs were strained late.
“They were burning a little bit,” St. John said. “It’s good to have that feeling back. It will only get better from here.”
Physically, the returning All-American, who was ranked second most of the season, said his skills are intact.
“They’ll always be there,” said St. John, admitting his knee may never be 100-percent healthy again. “It’s just getting my muscle memory back to where it was and we’ll see what happens from here. Hopefully, it only gets better.”
For the second straight dual, Iowa’s Mike Evans posted a pin at 165. Evans, ranked eighth, pinned No. 12 Ben Jordan, Wisconsin’s only wrestler with a winning record. Evans led 2-1 in the second, catching Jordan in the banana splits and pinning him in 3:23.
Evans, who also pinned Minnesota’s Cody Yohn last Sunday, has three wins over Jordan, including a major decision and fall this year.
“The gap keeps getting wider,” Brands said. “That’s a tribute to Mike Evans’ state of mind.”
The rest of the Hawkeyes dominated a struggling Badgers lineup.
Iowa won eight of nine competed matches, receiving technical falls from Matt McDonough (125) and Tony Ramos (133. Montell Marion added a major decision as the first three wrestlers scored more than 20 match points.
Ethen Lofthouse added a major decision at 174. The Hawkeyes held a 37-3 takedown advantage with all three of Wisconsin’s coming in a two-point win at 197. The Badgers’ only other match points came from escapes.
“We have to be able to do that to anybody and everybody,” Brands said. “Realistically, maybe not, but ideally, that has to be the mindset. I’m not sure we’ve had the right mindset every time out. I think we can get better there.”
Iowa honored eight seniors and Marion and Vinnie Wagner were the only two in the lineup. Wagner, who has balanced the rigors of wrestling with the that of pre-med studies, has made a strong contribution in his first season in the lineup. He earned a 6-1 decision over Timmy McCall at 184.
Wagner said the time has seemed short and filled with hard work.
“It’s actually pretty surreal,” Wagner said. “It doesn’t really seem like that was the last time I’ll be wrestling in it, considering the first time was only two months ago. It’s not like I’ve been wrestling out there for five years or something. It’s definitely been a great experience. Something I’ll always remember.”
Defending Big Ten heavyweight champ Blake Rasing, Tyler Clark, Brodie Ambrose, Stew Gilmor, and J.J. Krutsinger were also honored. Brands credited Rasing and Clark for their unselfishness to the team, willing to play their role as younger wrestlers bumped them from the lineup.
“Those two guys are super leaders for getting the cards they were dealt, and they were between a rock and a hard place, but they never conceded anything,” Brands said about Clark and Rasing. “Even when it’s full time for the other guy, I give them a lot of credit for sticking around and being the team player they are.”
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