By: Dan McCool – Des Moines Register Original here
St. Louis, Mo. â€”Defending champion Iowa will need a near-perfect final day to win a second consecutive NCAA Division I wrestling championship.
Ohio State, the only team with three wrestlers in tonightâ€™s final round, held a 3.5-point lead â€” 84.5 to 81 â€” over the Hawkeyes after Friday nightâ€™s semifinals.
Iowa State, which has a finalist in 197-pounder Jake Varner, was third with 71.5. Rounding out the top five are Nebraska and Edinboro.
Northern Iowa is in 21st place with 25 points. Moza Fay at 165 pounds is assured of all-America honors for the second straight season, and is the teamâ€™s lone competitor Saturday.
Friday nightâ€™s session drew an announced attendance of 16,682.
The Ohio State-Iowa team race is expected to take all day to decide.
â€œIf we can pull this thing off, itâ€™s going to be amazing,â€ said Mike Pucillo, the Buckeyesâ€™ defending 184-pound national champion. â€œI won it last year and look forward to another one here, but I think winning it as a team will be that much better.â€
Pucillo meets Jake Herbert of Northwestern, a national champion two seasons ago who took last winter off to train for the Olympics.
Iowa, which was as low as fourth place at one time Friday, will need a strong showing in the consolation round this morning. That could be something like the Hawkeyesâ€™ path to the 2000 championship, when they scored a lot of points before the finals.
Iowaâ€™s Brent Metcalf, the defending 149-pound national champion, said the Hawkeyes canâ€™t afford skids like they experienced each of the first two days. Five Hawkeyes who were seeded among the top five lost. All-Americans Charlie Falck, Alex Tsirtsis and Jay Borschel were eliminated from the tournament.
â€œI didnâ€™t watch all the matches, but I know there was a let-off at the end of a lot of matches,â€ Metcalf said.
â€œWe know better, thatâ€™s against the philosophy of our program, thatâ€™s against the philosophies of those guysâ€™ mind-sets. Hopefully we can come back and win still.â€
The Hawkeyes have five wrestlers remaining in competition. Do they need to be perfect the rest of the way?
â€œI think as perfect as you can be,â€ Metcalf said.
â€œThe first step in that is winning matches. Now itâ€™s even more (important) because now itâ€™s (go) time. Those guys who win have to continue to win and get deep in the placing matches.â€
Metcalf faces the only college wrestler to beat him since he came to Iowa from Virginia Tech. Thatâ€™s Darrion Caldwell of North Carolina State, who pinned Metcalf just before the Hawkeye started what is now a 69-match winning streak.
Metcalf won by technical fall when they met in the annual all-star meet in November, but that match does not count on a seasonâ€™s record. This will be the first counting match between the two since Caldwellâ€™s win.
â€œIâ€™m expecting a good match. Iâ€™m expecting him to come at me like he did in the all-star match,â€ Caldwell said.
Iowa State has Varner in the national finals for the third straight year â€” he was at 184 pounds each of the first two years â€” but only three wrestlers in consolation action.
â€œItâ€™s the same tournament, just a different year,â€ said Varner, a junior who meets Craig Brester of Nebraska in tonightâ€™s finals. â€œItâ€™s something to look forward to, making the finals again.
â€œI plan to leave my best effort out there; hopefully (the outcome) is different this year.â€