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IOWA CITY, Iowa - University of Iowa senior Matt McDonough still feels the sting and frustration of disappointment.
It hurts to think about not reaching the level that Hawkeye fans grew accustomed to see from the two-time NCAA champion and three-time national finalist.
After failing to cap his career with a fourth All-American performance, McDonough is working on overcoming the setback that concluded his college career and looking toward a future international career.
McDonough was a dominant force at 125 pounds the last four years, cutting down from 133 after his red-shirt season. He posted a 122-9 career mark, claiming two Big Ten titles and reaching the conference finals four times. McDonough earned bonus points for the Hawkeyes in 83 matches, recording 40 career pins, eight technical falls and 35 major decisions. His career compares favorably to any 125-pounder in college and Iowa history, capturing national titles as a freshman and junior and conference crowns as a sophomore and junior.
It is hard to focus on the big picture when the view is blocked by his 2-2 showing at the NCAA tournament that ended his senior season at 22-5 with five pins, a technical fall and four major decision.
"It's hard to think about past successes when your most (recent) challenge wasn't in your favor and you didn't do what you wanted to do," McDonough said in a phone interview Monday with The Gazette. "There are times when you're down you have to remember how successful you were and good you are still."
After his career came to a close, McDonough spent time reflecting in the tunnels of Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, sitting alone and watching match results. There was mental and physical anguish at the conclusion of his college career, but it certainly doesn't overshadow his contributions to the Hawkeyes.
"He's been a staple of this program," Iowa Coach Tom Brands said after McDonough's consolation-round loss. "Very reliable and it's not the way to go out. It's going to hurt, so we're going to have to help him over that. You don't just abandon him."
McDonough, a three-time state champion and four-time state medalist for Linn-Mar, suffered more losses this season than the previous four seasons combined. There have been numerous rumors, circulating about his health. He wasn't interested in making excuses, noting that once he decided he would take the mat that he erased any doubt that he was capable at competing at the highest level.
"As far as I'm concerned, I have been fine," McDonough said. "What I have to do now is just what I did after last season and that is heal mentally and physically. At this point in time, I don't know what that will mean."
The dominant performances weren't as common this season. McDonough said weight wasn't an issue, getting it under control by midseason and fine by the postseason. He didn't seem to win certain positions and scrambles that he did in the past. McDonough deflected questions as to underlying causes.
"I'm not going to comment on any specific injury or other challenge," McDonough said. "There's a lot of things that could affect the season. I think the important thing for me to note is there's always going to be adversity whenever you're going to try to accomplish something. Through whatever kind of mental challenges you do have the only way to get what you want is to find ways to adjust so you can be successful in the moment.
"It makes no difference once you decide you're going to go after a national or Olympic title. There isn't anything you can let stand in your way."
After the second day of the NCAA Championships, Brands said he gave McDonough his space, asking him to look him in the eye and leaving him alone.
"He's a hurting unit," Brands said then. "We're going to have to mend him to get him back."
The coaches have already had an influence on him. McDonough praised the guidance of Brands, Terry Brands and Ryan Morningstar.
"Being able to talk to my coaches really focused my energy on what is ahead," McDonough said. "(They tell me) what do I have to do next to heal myself mentally and physically to get ready for the international stage. When you go through something like this it's easy to get lost in negativity and being upset at a lot of different things."
The beginning of his post-collegiate career is also in question. He isn't sure when he will resume training, taking some time off to regain energy and refocus his attention on international wrestling. He has aspirations to continue training in Iowa City for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. McDonough said he will probably compete at 60 kilograms internationally.
"It's time to move forward. The only way I can get to that world level is to refocus yourself as if I'm back on the bottom tier just like when I started college," said McDonough, who also noted. "Just like it was a change of levels from high school to college, college to international wrestling is a whole other level. Not only are you competing against guys in a neighboring state, but guys across an entire ocean that don't even speak the same language or believe in the same God you do.
"It's a whole new challenge."