It was a very good year.
Trent Paulson came from behind to win the NCAA 157-pound championship as Iowa State finished second to Minnesota at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in The Palace at Auburn Hills. In a year in which the Gophers were expected to win the national team title handily, the final outcome was not decided until American's Josh Glenn defeated ISU's Kurt Backes in sudden victory overtime at 197 pounds.
Minnesota got a pin from heavyweight Cole Konrad in the final match of the
night, which would have given his team the title even if all three Cyclone
finalists had won their matches without bonus points. But Iowa State's run for
the first-place trophy impressed all who saw it and that impression was affirmed
when Sanderson was named the National Coach of the Year.
At the end of the day Minnesota posted a winning total of 98 points. Iowa State was second with 88.5 points, followed by Missouri (80), Northwestern (71.5) and Oklahoma State (69).
"We had a great tournament," Sanderson said. "I want to hand it to our entire team. We wrestled well. The seniors can go out with their heads high. Trent and Travis Paulson really bought into what we were doing this year and that isn't always easy when you are in your fifth year someplace. The same goes for Kurt Backes. Iowa State is going to be right there from now on. There is no doubt that everybody knows it. I also want to give our congratulations to Minnesota's coaches and wrestlers. They won the prize and they earned it."
Top-seeded Trent Paulson capped off his Iowa State wrestling career on the big stage by capturing the 157-pound championship with a thrilling 6-5 victory over seventh-seeded Craig Henning of Wisconsin. Hailing from Council Bluffs, Iowa, Paulson finishes as one of only of 33 Cyclone wrestlers to win 100-career matches, with a four-year mark of 115-20. His career-win total ties him for 18th on the all-time ISU list, tied with Dave Powell (1976-79). Paulson matched his best single-season win record, with a 29-4 mark that matched record he earned as a sophomore. He closed out his season winning 15 consecutive matches, a feat he also accomplished as a sophomore.
Henning struck first with a takedown midway through the first period to go up 2-0 on a scramble started by a Paulson shot. Paulson registered his first point at the 1:03 mark with an escape. Henning answered with an escape of his own to start the second period, taking a 3-1 advantage through the entire period. The match was far from over.
Starting the final two minutes from the down position, Paulson narrowed the lead to a single point with an immediate escape and took a 4-3 lead with a takedown. He then cut Henning loose, evening the score at 4-4, in a bid to get the winning move. It was a fortuitous decision. Shooting low with only 15 seconds remaining on the clock, Paulson grabbed a hold of Henning's leg to clinch the title with a takedown.
"It's a dream come true," Paulson said. "I've been imagining this moment since I got to Iowa State and to actually feel it is unbelievable. I shot a single leg and as the scramble went on it kind of turned into a high crotch situation. I thought he could scramble really well from there and felt he was getting the angle so I tried to get a little lower so he couldn't scramble as well and get my hips back. I wanted to wrestle on my feet and score my points there, especially after getting down right away. I didn't want it to come down to riding time and give him a chance to get into the last seconds. I wanted to leave it up to my performance on my feet."
Varner, seeded sixth, finished as the 184-pound runner-up, suffering a 6-1 loss to top-seeded Jake Herbert. The freshman was unable to muster much offense against the undefeated Wildcat. Varner is the first freshman to earn All-American honors and wrestle in a championship match since Cael Sanderson in 1999. He concludes his rookie season with a record of 29-7.
Backes, who came into the tournament as the ninth seed, finished his ISU wrestling career as the 197-pound runner-up. Backes battled back from an early 3-1 deficit, to tie the match at 3-3 with a takedown in the closing seconds of the second period. He took a 4-3 lead with an escape at the 1:22 mark, but Glenn's riding time evened the match at 4-4, pushing it into sudden victory. Glenn emerged as the aggressor in the first 12 seconds of sudden victory with a low, double-leg takedown on the edge of the mat for the win.
Backes finishes as one of 33 Cyclones with 100-career victories, recording a four-year record of 109-31 and going 28-7 in his senior campaign after moving up from 184 pounds a year ago. He was twice an All-American after earning seventh-place honors as freshman.
Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard witnessed the finals after flying from Minneapolis, Minn. where the Iowa State women's basketball team defeated Washington in the early afternoon.
"I don't think there is any doubt about Cael Sanderson being the coach of the year. He is the best coach in the country and with our returning lineup the future is very bright."
Very bright indeed.