Iowa's St. John Wins National Championship At 157 Pounds
By K.J. Pilcher, Reporter
DES MOINES, Iowa – Derek St. John doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve.
The composed University of Iowa junior won’t have to since he has a gold medal to drape around his neck.
St. John scored three points in an exciting third period to capture the 157-pound national title at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Arena. St. John beat Northwestern’s top-seeded Jason Welch, 3-2, igniting the Hawkeye-heavy crowd.
He described what it meant to win the championship.
“It’s awesome,” said St. John, the 157-pound runner-up last year. “It’s something I’ve been working the last four years and finally got it. It’s unbelievable. It’s a satisfying feeling.”
The match remained scoreless through the first two periods, as St. John rode Welch the entire second period to earn two minutes of riding time.
St. John took an advantage with his hustle, hitting a switching and forcing a penalty point for locked hands. An escape put him up, 2-0, with 1:12 to go.
Welch caught St. John out of position, getting a takedown and almost catching him on his back. Welch erased riding time, but St. John escaped with 35 seconds left for the victory. He kept his composure, which helped him in a semifinal win that went into a second tiebreaker.
St. John’s mat awareness allowed him to not panic and surrender two points before it got worse and cost him.
“That’s just part of the game,” St. John said. “You have to stay cool as a cucumber.”
St. John (31-2) earned his sixth win over Welch since 2011. It is challenging to overcome an opponent so many times. This was just the second one-point victory, and it was the biggest of them all.
“Every match is different,” St. John said. “This match meant the most to us.”
Ramos (31-2) and Stieber have developed an exciting series, but Stieber has won all five matchups, including a 3-1 sudden victory decision in the Big Ten Championships.
Unlike the conference finals, Stieber was able to score takedowns in regulation. He was able to hit and finish two low doubles in the first for a 4-1 lead.
“He caught me with my feet together,” Ramos said. “He did a little scouting, he knows I’m coming hard, and when I was chasing him, he caught me with my ankles together.”
The match seemed to turn in the second period. Ramos shot in and then locked up a cradle after Stieber’s counter. Ramos had Stieber turned, but Stieber bellied down with Ramos behind him. The official ruled no back points, which would have tied the match at five apiece.
Iowa challenged for points or even a pin, but after a lengthy review the call was upheld. Stieber led 5-3, adding an escape to lead 6-3 to start the third.
“It’s not up to me,” Ramos said when asked if he had nearfall points. “If I don’t get them, I still have to go out and wrestle, still score points and still get riding time. There’s lots of improvements I have to make.”
Ramos, a three-time NCAA qualifier, improved on his third-place finish from last year. The loss will burn as he trains to reach an even higher level as he continues to chase a national title.
“It’s a step better, but it’s also a step worse,” Ramos said. “I finished my last season with a loss. I’d rather go out with a win.”
St. John’s match preceded what was billed as the main event of the evening, and the entire tournament. Cornell’s three-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake faced Penn State’s defending national champion and two-time finalist David Taylor in the 165-pound championship.
Dake used 1:13 advantage of riding time for a 5-4 win and become the third NCAA Division I four-time champion, joining Oklahoma State’s Pat Smith and Iowa State’s Cael Sanderson.
The marquee match could have played a factor in the team race. Penn State entered the championship matches with a three-point lead over Oklahoma State (114 ½-111 ½). After Chris Perry’s 174-pound title gave the Cowboys a one-point lead, Penn State’s Quentin Wright clinched the Nittany Lions’ third straight team title with an 8-6 win over Kent State’s Dustin Kilgore in a battle of 2011 NCAA champions.
Wright didn’t watch the Cowboys wrangle the lead away in the first match, but relaxed when he watched Ruth win by major decision in the 184 championship to set up Wright.
“Really, I try not to watch, especially in tournaments,” Wright said. “I know I can help them so much, but I just try to focus on myself because the best I do is going to be the best for the team.”
Penn State had two champions of its five finalists and finished with 123 ½ points. The Cowboys, who also had two champions, was second with 119 ½.
Iowa, whose head coach Tom Brands declined media interviews, placed fourth with four All-Americans, including Ethen Lofthouse and Mike Evans. The Hawkeyes’ tallied 73 points, 30 behind Minnesota. Iowa’s total was hurt by 2012 All-American heavyweight Bobby Telford having to default out after his quarterfinal win, and unexpected consecutive losses by senior 125-pounder Matt McDonough, who did not place after winning two NCAA titles and reaching the finals his first three seasons.
Lofthouse, who moved from 174 to 184 this season, became a two-time All-American. He beat Maryland’s Jimmy Sheptock, 6-2, for fifth place. Lofthouse entered the tournament seeded 12th, but earned wins over the No. 5, No. 7, No. 10 and No. 11 seeds in the bracket.
“I feel good that I finished the right way, but I didn’t get what I wanted,” said Lofthouse, who placed seventh last year. “There’s that motivation right there for next year.”
Lofthouse (23-9) increased his production in the postseason. He struggled part of the season, putting his starting spot in jeopardy, but responded with a third-place finish at the Big Ten tournament and went 5-2 this weekend.
“Just go out and wrestle,” Lofthouse said about the lesson learned during this NCAA tournament. “Wrestle the way you know how.”
Evans, a two-time NCAA qualifier, was seeded third at 174, placing sixth. He went 0-2 Saturday, competing with a hurt left leg, which was heavily taped after a consolation win Friday night against Missouri’s Todd Porter. He finished the season with a 23-7 mark.
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