Derek St. John

(PHOTO: 2013 NCAA Championship Broadcast)

And now we reach the wrestler I’ve been looking forward to writing about the most in this post.. Derek St. John has been one of my all-time favorite wrestlers to watch, going all the way back to his high school days.  I was one of those guys who rooted for Iowa City West because how could you not love a high school team with five future Division I wrestlers?

Derek St. John came to the University of Iowa as a two-time Iowa state champion at Iowa City West.  During his first year on campus (2009), Iowa had recently bumped up current assistant coach Ryan Morningstar to 165 pounds, leaving a giant hole in the lineup at 157. As the 2009-10 season began, everyone wondered if Iowa would have firepower to win its third national title in a row, especially after they had narrowly won a national title the year before without crowning a single individual champion.  Iowa fans were chomping at the bit to let the true freshman St. John loose and (seemingly) give Iowa its best chance at another team title. But Tom Brands had a different idea, one that involved his usual plan of redshirting his true freshman and going with a Jake Kerr/Aaron Janssen combo for most of the year. When St. John placed 5th as a true freshman at the Midland Championships, fans screamed for St. John, but Brands didn’t listen. Iowa went on to win the title placing Matt McDonough, Dan Dennis, Montel Marion, Brent Metcalf, and Jay Borschel all in the finals (and winning three individual national championships). St. John wasn’t needed after all and Iowa easily won a third straight team national title.

As 2010-11 rolled around, fans finally got their wish as Derek St. John entered the lineup as Iowa’s starter at 157 lbs. He went 15-1 in dual competition, including 7-1 in Big Ten dual action. His lone loss was to eventual NCAA runner-up David Taylor. Although St. John never won a match against Taylor, their battles always seemed so epic to me.  In the first meeting, Taylor put a 12-4 beating on him in the Iowa-Penn State dual.  St. John lowered the margin of defeat to 8-3 in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament.  And at the NCAA Tournament, he lost just 6-3 to Taylor in the quarterfinals. St. John earned a runner-up finish at the Big Ten Tournament and finished a very respectable fourth (easily making the All-America ranks) at the NCAA Tournament as a freshman and hope started to bloom of him being the next big thing for Iowa wrestling.

Unfortunately, his sophomore campaign went a little different.  While wrestling against UNI in December, St. John suffered a knee injury that required him to miss a significant amount of the season. He missed nearly a month of action, and after he returned at the Ohio State dual and lost a 7-3 decision to Josh Demas, fans wondered if he was actually ready to return.  Then things got worse in February, when St. John dropped a  9-1 major decision to Oregon State’s RJ Pena at the National Duals.  But St. John wasn’t worried. He won his final two matches of the regular season before going to the Big Ten Tournament and winning his first conference title with two wins in sudden victory (6-4 over Nebraska’s James Green in the quarterfinals and 3-1 over Penn State’s Dylan Alton in the semifinals). At the NCAA Tournament he continued to grind out victories, using another sudden victory win (another 3-1 win over Alton in the quarterfinals) and two four-point wins to reach the NCAA finals (an 8-4 win over Pena, avenging his earlier loss, and a 5-1 victory over Northwestern’s Jason Welch).  Unfortunately, his season wasn’t able to have the ultimate happy ending because in the finals he ran into one of the greatest college wrestlers of all time, Kyle Dake, and lost 4-1. However, his toughness to come back and make the finals on one good leg earned the respect of not only Hawkeye fans, but wrestling fans all over.  Even fellow Penn State fans were won over by his toughness.

St. John entered his junior year as the favorite to win his weight. As Dake continued his quest for four titles at four weights (moving up to 165 lbs), it left 157 wide open for St. John to seize. And seize it he did. He went 31-2 as a junior, losing his first match of the year to Missouri’s Kyle Bradley at National Duals. He didn’t lose again until the Big Ten Tournament semifinals,  where he lost a close 5-4 decision to James Green. You might expect a loss in the semifinals to be a bit letdown for a guy going for his third straight Big Ten Tournament finals appearance, but St. John rebounded strongly and pinned Dylan Alton in the third-place match. If you’re going to take third in the Big Ten Tournament, you might as well pin the Penn State guy while you’re at it, right?  The loss in the Big Ten Tournament didn’t faze St. John, though, and he went on to win all of his matches at the NCAA Tournament en route to his first national title (and third All America honors), beating  freshman phenom Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State in the semifinals (3-2 in the tiebreaker periods) and funky Northwestern wrestler Jason Welch in the finals, 3-2.

Finally, he entered this year again the favorite to win the 157 crown. He began the season 20-0, but had his first hiccup of the year against James Green (losing 9-7).  And for the first time in his career he not only lost back-to-back matches, but he also lost his bid for a perfect career record in Carver, losing to Ness of Minnesota, 7-4, on a late reversal.

I still strongly believe that St. John is the favorite at 157 come March. He may not win another Big Ten title, but what he has shown me over his career is that he is mentally tough and can handle whatever is thrown at him. Bum knee? No problem, he’ll make the finals at the NCAA Tournament.  Lose in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament? Okay, I’ll ust go ahead and win the NCAA Tournament. St. John may not have been the flashiest wrestler, or scored the most dual meet points, or even been the best wrestler on his team in a given year. But he’s always been tough, determined, and a model of consistency and for that he will always remain one of my all-time favorite Hawkeyes.  I cannot think of a better role model for any kids watching this sport to learn from. From his bumps in the Iowa State High School Tournament to suffering a few losses in college, nothing has ever seemed to slow Derek St. John down for long and for that I thank him.

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Ethen Lofthouse

(PHOTO: Tessa Hursh, Daily Iowan)

A product of Mountain Crest high school in Utah, Ethen is not the first — and may not even be the last — Lofthouse to wrestle for Iowa.  Before Ethen there was Luke, who Iowa fans know as “Uncle Luke” because, well… he’s Ethen Lofthouse’s uncle.  We could do a whole post on the logistics of the Lofthouse family, but it would probably be a little dry. In any event, Ethen came to Iowa with four Utah high school state titles and was considered by some to be the top 171 pound recruit in the nation. However, Lofthouse’s career at Iowa has had its share of ups and downs and controversies.

Ethen posted a very good record as an unattached wrestler during redshirt season, going 30-7 and leaving Iowa fans dreaming that he would be able to fill the shoes of departing NCAA Champion Jay Borschel at 174 lbs.  Alas, Ethen’s redshirt freshman season was a little less than most expected.  Maybe Iowa fans had been spoiled by Borschel being one of the best 174ers we’ve have had the pleasure of watching on the mat, or maybe it was the fact that Ethen’s more conservative style was so different than the attacking style Dan Gable had taught and popularized.  But it caused fans to be a little uneasy about him and his performances.  He finished his first year as a starter with a 20-10 record, losing to Ed Ruth, the eventual third-place finisher at that year’s NCAA Tournament, in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.  Lofthouse rebounded from that loss to finish 3rd at the Big Ten Tournament, but went a disappointing 1-2 at the NCAA Tournament and failed to earn All-America honors.

That underwhelming NCAA Tournament performance kicked off a long off-season of rumors and fans wondering what 174 would hold for the next year.  Would top-ten recruit Mike Evans take the starting spot at 174?  Evans was renowned for being an excellent rider on the mat and if he could score more points than Ethen, why not switch to the redshirt freshman?  Would Ethen retain his spot in the lineup by beating Evans?  Could he cut down to 165? Bumping up to 184 didn’t seem likely with Grant Gambrall holding down that spot at the time. Ultimately, the problem sorted itself out with Evans cutting to 165 himself, allowing Ethen to go the whole season at 174 without much controversy.  Lofthouse went 28-9 as a sophomore, again finishing third at the Big Ten Tournament.  But he did manage to improve on his performance at the NCAA Tournament, finishing 7th and earning is first All America honors.

So all was well in the world, right? Wrong.  After a season of cutting to 165, Evans found that he could no longer subject his body to that abuse and remain effective. He made his intention clear he would be moving up to 174 lbs.  Would Ethen stay at 174 and compete with Evans or move up to 184 to take a run at the starting spot there and replace former All-American Gambrall?   Ethen decided to take his chances up a weight class. Even more surprising, Gambrall decided to take a run at the 174 spot himself after wrestling at both 197 and 184 the previous year.  That run at 174 ended rather early and with Lofthouse failing to assert his dominance at 184, Brands elected to give Gambrall another shot at 184 at the Penn State dual. But Gambrall wasn’t able to beat NCAA Champion Ed Ruth — and wasn’t even able to keep it close, losing a 21-10 major decision. That was the final straw for him at 184 and Lofthouse remained the starter for the remainder of the season.  Lofthouse caught fire at the end of the season and went on to finish 22-9, placing third yet again at the Big Ten Tournament, and then shocking many fans (including Iowa fans) by finishing fifth at the NCAA Tournament.

Lofthouse entered this season, his final season, as, improbably, the third-highest returning All American in Iowa’s lineup (behind fellow seniors Ramos and St. John).  He experienced his first loss of the season at the Penn State dual, falling yet again to two-time NCAA Champion Ed Ruth.  He picked up his second loss of the season in the finals of the Midlands Championships, falling to then-ranked #3 Jimmy Sheptock of Maryland. He then missed most of January with a knee injury suffered in the Michigan State dual, returning to action last Friday in the Iowa-Northwestern dual meet.

While Ethen does not bring Ramos’s perfect record into Carver on Sunday against Michigan,  he does match Tony in the fact that he will be a four-year starter in the Iowa lineup, an impressive accomplishment.  He has given this Iowa team a great deal over the years, all while receiving loads of criticism. Lofthouse probably could have finished his career at 174 lbs, but he bumped up to make room for Evans in the roster. I can’t say for sure who would be the better 174er, but he bumped to 184 for the good of the team, which is worthy of respect. He has been frustrating to watch at times, but he has also done a lot for this team so I wish him the best on Sunday and the over the rest of the season. I hope he also has success in whatever he does with the rest of his long life. I will always remember Lofthouse for being a pain in the rear to watch, but he was our pain in the rear.

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Joe DuCharme

Joe was a late prospect on the Iowa radar who arrived from Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Joe wasn’t the typical blue-chip recruited by the Hawkeyes. Terry Brands first caught wind of DuCharme while working at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Brands ran multiple clinics in Pagosa Springs and when DuCharme went undefeated as a senior, Brands came a-callin’ to recruit him to Iowa.

Ducharme redshirted during the 2009-10 season, posting a 4-2 record and placing fifth at the Kaufman-Brand Open.  Unfortunately, from that point forward, DuCharme would not post a winning record at Iowa, going 5-6, 2-2, 1-4 and 3-6 while wrestling unattached.  Joe did have great success off the mat and in the classroom; he’ll very likely be a 4-time Academic All-Big Ten and letterwinner. I am sure he would love to have the medals and the glory or being a successful varsity wrestler, but I suspect that he will have no problem succeeding after graduation anyway.

Thank you, Joe, for your dedication to the Iowa Wrestling team.

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Tomas Lira

Lira has always been a wrestler I have rooted for to break into the Iowa lineup. Why?  Because like me, Lira was a member of the two-time state runner-up club.  No one wants to finish second and the dream of wrestling at a Division I school was always on my mind, but my ability was no where close to Lira’s ability.

Like most Iowa recruits, Lira redshirted his freshman year and wrestled in quite a few open tournaments. The highlight of Lira’s redshirt year was winning a title at the York College Open. Lira competed at virtually every open tournament he was able to during his his redshirt year, competing in seven open tournaments and compiling a 10-11 overall record. While the experience he gained was valuable, he just never emerged as a possible starter for Iowa.

The fact that Brands went with an undersized Grant Grambrall told the story about Lira’s ability to crack the lineup, but overall the 2010-11 season, Lira’s redshirt freshman campaign, was a positive one overall as he recorded a 13-7 record at 184 pounds and finished 2nd at a trio of open tournaments.  Would 2011-12 be the year for Lira to break out?

Well, he didn’t breakout as a definite starter for Iowa, but he did fill in when needed as a starter over the next few seasons.  In 2011-12, Lira posted a 11-10 record at 197 pounds, going 2-6 in duals and 0-3 in Big Ten duals while competing with Vinnie Wagner and Grant Gambrall for the starting job at 197.  In 2012-13, he went 17-6, though he got just three starts at the varsity level, going 1-2 in those matches. It was apparent Lira was very well-liked off the mat and the type of kid that kept his mouth shut and kept his eyes and ears open. He stepped up to fill a void whenever Brands and Co. needed him to do so.

This has been a pretty good senior season for Lira. He opened up the year by placing third at the Luther Open and then got the nod at 197 pounds against Edinboro, with Nathan Burak dealing with an injury. Unfortunately he gave up a fall in his only varsity start this year.  But he bounced back and won the Grand View Open, defeating teammate Kris Klapprodt, 5-2, in the finals. Lira will leave the Hawkeyes as a 4-time letter winner and one of the best workout partners the upper weight wrestlers have had on the team. He will be missed. Good luck in the future, Tomas.

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Nick Trizzino

Trizzino was always going to be a Hawkeye. He’s the son of Mark Trizzino, who earned All-America honors at Iowa in 1984 and was a four-year letterwinner with the Hawkeyes (1981-84). The family ties to the Hawkeyes don’t end at his father, either. His uncle, Scott, was a three-time All-American (1978-79-81) and four-time letterwinner (1977-78-79-81) at Iowa, too.

Trizzino proved in high school that he wasn’t all about the name. He finished his prep career at Bettendorf, IA with a record of 118-18 and had high hopes after committing to Iowa. His biggest problem was having Matt McDonough and Tony Ramos on the same team.

When looking back at his career at Iowa, I didn’t expect that I would see that he finished with a 3-0 record at the varsity level — but he did. Could Nick have cracked the lineup at a different school?  That might be a question he will ask himself for the rest of his life. I personally don’t know him but given his family tradition, transferring was never really in the picture. Trizzino will finish his career at Iowa 17-7.  Good luck in the future, Nick.

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Again, a very special thanks to @hawktalkscorner for giving us his “View from the Stands”!

What will you remember most about this senior class?  Hit up the comments!