The Iowa wrestling team has had very good wrestlers at the light weights for a while now -- Matt McDonough won a pair of Big Ten and NCAA titles and dominated 125 lbs. for almost four years; Tony Ramos finally claimed both a Big Ten and NCAA title this year (and may have claimed more if Logan Stieber hadn't been holding things down in 133 lbs. for a few years); and Thomas Gilman, one of Iowa's newest light weight stars, is fresh off a season where he won a Midlands championship (which included a win over Jesse Delgado, the two-time defending NCAA champion). Now that folkstyle (college) dominance is starting to pay off on the freestyle level.
Tony Ramos climbed to the top of the field at 125.5 lbs at the Senior World Team Trials in May, earning a spot on the U.S. team headed to the World Championships this fall. Thomas Gilman matched him by going to the Junior World Team Trials and claiming the spot at 121 lbs on the U.S. team headed to the Junior World Championships later this summer. And now Matt McDonough has made it a trio of Iowa (or ex-Iowa) wrestlers representing the U.S. at the light weights, claiming the 125.5 lb spot on the U.S. team headed to the University World Championships in Hungary next month.
McDonough earned that spot by beating Cornell's Nahshon Garrett in a special "wrestle-off" for the spot. Garrett initially earned the spot by coming out on top at the University World Team Trials in May, but a change to the qualifying process worked to McD's favor:
USA Wrestling tweaked the qualifying procedure for the University World Team this year, allowing the highest-placing eligible wrestler in each weight class at the Senior WTT to challenge the winner of the University WTT, which were held in late May.
"I had no idea about it until after I finished wrestling, when Tom Brands came up to me," McDonough explained. "He told me that I could choose to challenge for a spot on the university world team, but I had to decide soon. He said, ‘Go home and sleep on it, and let me know tomorrow.' "
McDonough was indeed the highest-placing eligible wrestler at the Senior World Team Trials, which gave him the chance to challenge Garrett for his spot. (As I understand it, McDonough was eligible because he's only a year removed from collegiate competition, although I'm not sure what the exact cut-off point is.) McD did not waste his opportunity, either, beating Garrett two matches to zero in the best-of-three competition.
Garrett opened up an early 8-2 lead in the first period of the first match, but McDonough mounted a comeback and used a takedown a pair of turns in the final minute to lock up a 16-10 win. He decided to dispense with the drama in the second match, cruising to a 15-5 technical fall win. McDonough's win was especially sweet, since not only did he lock up a chance to compete for a medal at the University World Championships, but he also managed to exact a bit of revenge. Garrett beat McDonough in the NCAA Tournament in 2013, becoming the only wrestler outside of Anthony Robles to beat McD on the championship side of the bracket at the NCAA Tournament. That loss (coupled with McDonough's subsequent loss in the consolation bracket) prevented him from becoming a 4-time All-American, which was surely bittersweet. This win probably doesn't entirely make up for that loss, but it still felt good to see McDonough pick up the win all the same.
Best of luck to Matt as he tries to bring home some gold for the U.S. at the University World Championships next month.