Entering Friday's semifinal session, Iowa's hopes of winning a fourth-straight national title were decidedly slim. They basically needed three things to happen: (1) wrestle a perfect (or near-perfect) session themselves, (2) have Penn State stumble, and (3) have Cornell stumble, too. One of those things happened: Cornell definitely stumbled, going 1-3 in the semifinals in a particularly egregious example of shitting the bed. They were favorites in at least three of the matches (and the fourth was likely a toss-up), but with a chance to give themselves an excellent opportunity to claim the title tomorrow, they collapsed in a heap, losing consecutive matches at 174, 184, and 194.
And those other things? Iowa went 1-2 in the semis and 2-2 in the round of 12 consolation matches (the ones that determine whether or not you'll be an All-American or not), while Penn State went 3-1 in the semis. Consequently, Penn State is in the catbird's seat to claim their first national title since Dwight Eisenhower was president. It's not a mathematical certainty yet -- I suppose that if either Iowa or Cornell were to win all of their remaining matches and Penn State was to lose all of their remaining matches, then someone else might claim the title... but that seems absurdly unlikely. No, the only things really left for Iowa at this point are for Matt McDonough to try and claim his second straight national title at 125 and for the remaining wrestlers (Marion, St. John, Gambrall, and Lofthouse) to try and finish as high as possible on the podium. That's not the result we wanted (or the one we've come to expect after the insane levels of success Gable and Brands have provided), but it's also not the worst result, either.
Session IV Results
125: (2) Matt McDonough DEC (3-1) (3) Brandon Precin (jNW)
141: (1) Kellen Russell (Michigan) DEC (4-3 OT) (5) Montell Marion
184: (9) Quentin Wright FALL (3:53) (12) Grant Gambrall
133: (5) Lou Ruggirello (Hofstra) DEC (8-7) (6) Tony Ramos
157: (6) Derek St. John DEC (3-1) Mark Lewandowski (Bufalo)
157: (6) Derek St. John DEC (9-5) (7) Bryce Saddoris (Navy)
165: (7) Shane Onufer (Wyoming) DEC (9-6) (11) Aaron Janssen
197: (5) Luke Lofthouse DEC (3-1) (11) Jerome Ward (ISU)
197: (5) Luke Lofthouse MAJ DEC (10-2) (8) Matt Powless (Indiana)
Session V Schedule (10am-1pm CST, roughly)
141: (5) Montell Marion vs. (10) Todd Schavrien (Missouri)
157: (6) Derek St. John vs. (8) Jason Welch (jNW)
184: (12) Grant Gambrall vs. (5) Joe LeBlanc (Wyoming)
197: (5) Luke Lofthouse vs. (3) Trevor Brandvold (Wisconsin
The usual rules of open threading apply: you know what they are by now.
Looking ahead at Saturday's action:
125: Say hello to the bad guy. It's not Matt McDonough's fault, but there isn't going to be a soul at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia or watching on ESPN cheering for him, outside of the Iowa faithful. Granted, there are a lot of Iowa fans, but he's still going to be cast as the villain in this particular melodrama. And, granted, it's not like Iowa isn't used to wearing the black hat -- nothing breeds contempt like success, and no one's been more successful over the past 30 years than Iowa. When you become the New York Yankees of your sport, you're going to be dealing with plenty of adoration -- and plenty of haters, as exemlified by the "anyone but Iowa" cheering phenomenon that takes root during any tournament featuring Iowa.
But you can probably turn that trend up to 11 for the match between McD and Robles in the finals because Robles is being positioned as one of the golden boys of the sport in this tournament. Some more conspiracy-minded wrestling fans have groused that the seeding at 125 was done specifically to set up the best possible chance for a Robles-McD final (if Robles had been the 2-seed he likely would have had to go through Precin at the 3-seed, and he's already lost to Precin in the past). I'm dubious of that (as Andy Hamilton pointed out, the final seedings were a pretty accurate reflection of the coaches' poll; and you can't fault Robles' dominance against the guys he has faced), but there's no doubt that everyone involved here -- the organizers of the event, the NCAA, ESPN, wrestling websites -- are all be a little happier that Robles is indeed able to make a run to the finals. (Especially ESPN, who's been hyping him more than anyone else the entire tournament.)
There's nothing sinister about that, either -- they root for good stories and stories that they can sell to a public that largely ignores college wrestling and, to be fair, it's hard to find a better story than Robles' tale. By all accounts, he's a good guy and his ability to overcome tremendous personal obstacles is amazing -- he's become one of the best wrestlers in the country despite having only one leg. That's a remarkable accomplishment. But we've seen plenty of Robles stories over the past few days and we'll see more today -- now that he's made it to the finals, I would bet money on SportsCenter running a heart-rending story on his life story, complete with tinkling piano music and a Tom Rinaldi voiceover. I wish him well in life -- but I won't be rooting for him in this match. On the bright side, Iowa fans will finally get to see an entire McD match on TV in this tournament. Despite utilizing a split-screen for every other weight, they chose to focus almost exclusively on Robles' match during the quarters and semis yesterday.
As for the match itself.... it's damn hard to envision how it will go because wrestling Robles is literally like wrestling no one else. McD has never faced him before, either. He does have the benefit of having a teammate who's beaten Robles in the past (Tyler Clark) and he's been drilling on certain situations he's likely to encounter in a match with Robles, but until you're on the mat with him, it's hard to know how it will go. Here's guessing he won't spend three minutes staring at him and circling the way Ben Kjar did in his semifinal match with Robles, though.
141: The bounce-back factor. It's difficult to predict how Marion will do in Saturday morning's consolation action because it's impossible to know what's going through his head right now. He was thisclose to beating Russell, only to come up short after roughly a zillion overtime periods. That's just about the definition of a gutting loss; can he rebound and push that aside and climb to third place on the podium? Sure. But it also wouldn't be a shock to see him sleepwalk through these matches, either. He has Missouri's Schavrien up first; if he gets by that match he's guaranteed to finish no worse than fourth -- as well as a rematch with either Minnesota's Mike Thorn or Illinois' Jimmy Kennedy; he split a pair of matches with both guys earlier this year (including an awesome last-second win over Kennedy in the quarters yesterday). Montell is easily capable of finishing 3rd; he's also capable of slumping and finishing 6th.
157: The next step. The good news (or perhaps bad news, given the increasingly close nature of their matches) is that there's no shot of a fourth go-round between DSJ and David Taylor in the consolation bracket. On the other hand, should DSJ get by jNW's Jason Welch (who he's beaten twice earlier this season) he'll get either the 1-seed Adam Hall (of Boise) or the 2-seed Steve Fittery (of American), both of whom were undefeated before entering this tournament.. Either guy would represent a significant challenge for DSJ, but that's fine -- we might as well see where DSJ stacks up against the other top guys in the division. Based on his performances last night, DSJ seems determined to shake off the disappointment of another loss to Taylor and to finish as high as possible on the podium.
184: Return of the French cowboy. There's no doubt that Gambrall's run to the semifinals was the most surprising run by an Iowa wrestler at this tournament; even if it ended with an ugly pinfall loss to Quentin Wright, it was still impressive. Gambrall is going to have his hands full finishing any higher than 6th, though -- if he can beat 5-seeded Joe "the French Cowboy" LeBlanc (for the second time this tournament) on Saturday morning, he'll get either 1-seed Chris Honeycutt (of Edinboro) or 3-seed Steve Bosak (of Cornell) in the 3rd-place final later on Saturday. It wouldn't be too much of a surprise if he won either (or both) of those matches, given what he's already done at this tournament -- but it won't be easy, either.
197: The Albino Rhino rides again. Like DSJ, Uncle Luke rebounded from a disappointing loss in the quarterfinals to put together two solid wins in Friday night's session, guaranteeing him All-America status and putting him in the running for 3rd-place. Unfortunately, standing in his way of a spot in the 3rd place match is Wisconsin's Trevor Brandvold, who beat Lofthouse two weeks ago at the Big Tens. If he can solve that puzzle, he'll get either the 1-seed (Cornell's Cam Simaz) or a rematch with Stanford's Zach Giesen (the 12-seed, who the Albino Rhino beat in the second round at this tournament).