By John Huckaby
This year's NCAA championships will be remembered for three things " North Carolina State's Darrion Caldwell's upset win over Iowa's Brent Metcalf at 149 pounds, Metcalf's unsportsmanlike push of Caldwell after losing and the courage and skill of Arizona State's Anthony Robles, a fourth-place finisher. Let's look at each.
Caldwell has wrestled Metcalf three times " a dual meet early in the 2007- 2008 season, this season's All-Star meet (doesn't count in NCAA records), and the finals on Saturday night. He's beaten him twice.
The first time, Caldwell, from New Jersey, decked Metcalf. Then in the All-Star meet, Metcalf easily won a 19-3 technical fall. It was Caldwell 11-6 in the finals Saturday.
Caldwell took it to Metcalf " who had won 69 straight bouts including last season's championship final " early and managed to tire out the Hawkeye to a certain extent with a tough ride in the first period, eventually building a riding time point for the match. Metcalf isn't a strong technical wrestler on his feet and that's where Caldwell made his hay. Here's hoping we see a couple more of these matchups down the line.
Now to the push, or as Metcalf likes to put it " just wrestling the whole seven minutes. There seems to be some dispute as to whether Caldwell started his celebration early. He was released by Metcalf with five seconds left on the clock (according to TV replays) and he started to circle Metcalf as winning wrestlers have done for decades when they have a lead and only seconds on the clock.
As time ran out, (according to TV replays), he started his flip in celebration. Metcalf is then seen rushing toward Caldwell and pushing him as he flipped. Caldwell appeared to have landed on his back without injury.
An unsportsmanlike call was made by the official. A team point was deducted from the Iowa total.
"There's five seconds left on the clock and he turns his back and runs from me," Metcalf said to Andy Hamilton of the Iowa City Press Citizen. "I'm going to continue to wrestle. If I was trying to brutally push him, I probably would've pushed him right off the platform. It was more me being aggressive. There was time left on the clock in my mind."
There are some who blame Caldwell for celebrating early. Come on, there have been celebrations of this type for decades in the tournament. I've been to more than 30 NCAA tournaments and celebrations before the clock expires are pretty much routine. Many don't involve flips or other demonstrations but they are celebrations just the same. But most don't end up with the loser pushing the winner.
I'm not so concerned whether or not time was out when Caldwell started his demonstration. I'm concerned with what could have happened. Caldwell landed on the mat and he's a remarkable athlete, as is Metcalf, and he was not injured. But a few feet from where Caldwell hit is unprotected wood and an edge to the raised platform. Had he hit on the wood or edge we might have had a more ugly scene. There's no doubt in my mind that Metcalf was frustrated at losing and not wrestling the full seven minutes when he started the push.
It's good there was no serious injuries.
Now to Robles. It's not often that you sit in the stands and watch a wrestler on crutches head for the mat with the intention of competing. But Robles is not your average wrestler.
Robles, Arizona State's 125-pounder, has been missing a leg since birth but that doesn't stop him. Seeded 12th, Robles disposed of Ohio State's Nicco Triggas, No. 5 seed Charlie Falck of Iowa, and No. 4 seed Brandon Precin of Northwestern before losing to top-seeded Paul Donahoe of Edinboro in the semis.
Robles finished fourth after losing to Precin in a rematch.
Efforts like that of Robles is what makes wrestling different from many other sports. Robles can take pride in his efforts on the mat and he is an inspiration to many.
In last week's column, we said we'd supply you with a few chuckles by predicting the winners in Saint Louis. We're afraid those chuckles turned to laughter as we managed only three winners.
We got Jake Herbert of Northwestern at 184, Steve Luke of Michigan at 174 and Jordan Burroughs of Nebraska at 157 as correct picks.
The three-day event drew 97,111, a record for attendance. ... Perhaps spelling isn't the forte of the folks at the Scot-trade Center. On the scoreboard, a Boise State wrestler was identified as being from Bosie State. Herbert was called Hebert in another instance. ... Next year's eight-mat circus will move a bit west as Omaha will host the tournament Marach 18-20. ... Two of three Pennsylvania high schoolers who made the finals won. They were Herbert (North Allegheny) and Edinboro's Jarrod King (Connellsville). Cumberland Valley's Ryan Williams of Old Dominion at 141 was the other Pa. product. Herbert and King won state titles in high school. The best finish for Williams was seventh. ... Jake Deitchler, the Minnesota high schooler who made the Olympic Greco- Roman team last summer, will drop his plans for year-round Olympic training. He'll attend Minnesota, his original choice before making the Olympic team.