It’s been a while since former University of Iowa wrestler Derek St. John was on the mat in a singlet, as a opposed to sitting in the corner coaching. The former NCAA champion under Tom Brands took an assistant coaching job last summer at North Dakota State and has been working with head coach Roger Kish. St. John wrapped up his Hawkeye career with a fifth place finish at the 2014 NCAA championships, which capped off his fourth straight All-American honor.
After the NCAA tournament, there were some that wondered whether St. John would opt to go into coaching or stay in Iowa City to train as a part of the Hawkeye Wrestling Club (HWC), and initially the latter was the plan. St. John much like his fellow graduate Tony Ramos were both to be expected to compete for the HWC, but when the opportunity to get involved with coaching came along, it was something the former Iowa high school star couldn’t pass up.
“Roger Kish and Manny Rivera have a good thing going here at NDSU and I thought it would be a good fit. I felt it would be a great place to start my coaching career and there are some things that I could add to the program.” Derek said in an interview with us last summer.
North Dakota State had a successful 2014-15 season, as they won the Western Regional Conference, and crowned two middleweight All-Americans in Kuris Julson (174) and Hayden Zilmer (184). Another win for the program is when their conference announced that they have plans to merge with the Big 12 conference to create a regional qualifier.
After a year of getting some valuable coaching experiencing under his belt, St. John lived up to his response in our interview from last summer and did return to the mat in the highly anticipated AGON V: Iowa Against the World event, where he took on an old rival in Jason Welch. The pair had met on seven occassions in their college careers and all of it was one sided in St. John’s favor – including wins in both folk and freestyle.
The meeting in Cedar Rapids was what many did not expect. In those seven meetings the pair had scored in total 30 points, which comes out to a little over four points a match. After putting fans through low scoring affiars in college, they blew the roof off of the U.S. Cellular Center when they each went over double digit points in a 12-10 win for Welch. The match held a lot of significance, the first being that with the loss to Welch, it opened the door to questions if St. John had lost his edge against Welch who was the #5 ranked American at the time.
However, the more important takeaway should have been this: St. John has gone from hard nose grinding it out type of wrestler, to a high point scoring machiene. Granted freestyle rules encourage more scoring than folkstyle. In college St. John was excellent in the top position, and it wouldn’t be absurd to think he could ride just about anyone in the country for the full two minutes of the second/third period. In freestyle St. John still attacks with regularity like he did in college, but he also benefits from lifts if opponents get in on his legs.
After wrapping up AGON, St. John decided to give the freestyle circut a go this offseason, and came back to Iowa City to work out with some old friends, before heading off to the U.S. Open last week. There St. John put together a fifth place finish at the 70 kg weight class, and with that finish automatically qualified to be one of eight wrestlers to compete at the World Team Trials in Madison next month.
Pouring into his results from the weekend three matches stand out. The first was a 11-0 technical fall loss to Dustin Schlatter. Since the former Minnesota Gopher has returned to the mat he has climbed to #2 in the American rankings, and has made his way back to the World rankings. Schlatter is a good wrestler, but it also may mean the top of this weight class may be a tough spot to crack.
The second most important match was his 19-8 techinical fall over none other than Jason Welch in the consolation quarterfinals. The win not only eliminated Welch from qualifying for Trials, but the result is also the exact opposite from their meeting in April. In just one month’s time, St. John went from losing a close 2 point match, to a beat down of sorts, despite surrending some points. A year ago Welch was the third place finisher (fourth overall) at the Trials for the 70 kg weight, so while the very top guys may be tough to crack into, St. John has a very legitmate shot at making a National team.
The next match to conisder was his victory over Moza Fay in the fifth place match. The win clinched a spot at the Trials for St. John, but Fay has been one of 70 kg’s better wrestlers over the past few seasons. Fay was the U.S. Open runner-up in 2014, with his only loss being to the eventual World Team member Nick Marable.
St. John lost a tough match to Kevin LaValley by decision at the Open, who went on to take fourth. The #3 guy at this weight is James Green, the four-time All-American out of Nebraska. Green and St. John had their fair share of college battles, and while Green’s explosiveness from neutral often caused issues for St. John in college, he has won more than his fair share of the battles. With almost another month between the Open and the Trials, St. John could reasonably progress to be one of America’s best wrestlers at this weight.
Either way it is shapping up to be a great storyline to watch next month in Madison.
70 kg/154 lbs.
Final Wrestle-off Qualifier
2015 U.S. Open champion- Nick Marable, Morgantown, W.Va. (Sunkist Kids
Trials Tournament Qualifiers
2015 U.S. Open second place – Dustin Schlatter, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm),
2015 U.S. Open third place – James Green, Willingboro, N.J. (Titan Mercury WC)
2015 U.S. Open fourth place – Kevin LeValley, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)
2015 U.S. Open fifth place – Derek St. John, Fargo, N.D. (Titan Mercury WC)
2015 Northeast Senior Regionals champion – Nazar Kulchytskyy, Madison, Wis. (Titan Mercury WC)
2015 Northern Plains Senior Regionals champion – Adam Hall, Raleigh, N.C. (Titan Mercury WC)
Wildcard selection (one per weight) –