January 2014

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It's Like Competing in March… But in January By Chris Brewer K ing of the Mountain is a pretty simple game — climb to the top, stay on top. It's the execution that proves challenging. University of Iowa senior Derek St. John reached the top of the 157-pound mountain by winning the 2013 NCAA Championships last March. As a result, he opened the 2013-14 season unanimously rated No. 1 in the country, and he's maintained the top spot by defeating 19 consecutive challengers to the throne. That task becomes more difficult each week. Beginning Jan. 10, St. John will wrestle No. 2 Alex Dieringer (Oklahoma State), No. 3 Dylan Ness (Minnesota), No. 4 James Green (Nebraska), and No. 7 Taylor Walsh (Indiana). Four consecutive matches, four top 10 opponents. "It makes you a little more alert," St. John said of the upcoming lineup. "Those are big names and they're going to be big matches against high-ranked opponents. I'll have to come ready to go." Green and Dieringer were 157-pound All-Americans last year. Ness placed fourth at 149 pounds at the national tournament and was an NCAA runner-up in 2012. Walsh was not an All-American last year, but he grabbed headlines in 2013 when he pinned 15 consecutive opponents, a streak that was ended by St. John in the Midlands finals. It's a three-week lineup of January duals that resembles a three-day lineup of March championships. "Each match easily could (simulate a championship)," said St. John, who wrestled in the 2012 NCAA finals before winning the 2013 title. "I wrestled Dieringer in the semis last year in a close match. I've never wrestled Ness, but I've had close matches with Green, so it easily could be." St. John was one of seven defending NCAA champions to open the season ranked No. 1. Of those seven, only he and Minnesota's Tony Nelson remain unbeaten. "I don't know how they train or what their mindsets are, but I try not to focus on that stuff," said St. John. "What they do doesn't really have anything to do with what I do, so I keep my nose down and don't focus on that stuff." But other people do. When the latest Dan Hodge Trophy watch list was released Jan. 3, St. John was ranked No. 3, one spot ahead of Nelson, and behind Penn State's David Taylor and Oklahoma's Andrew Howe. St. John has seen the list and respects the award, but concedes it means nothing. "That's something you shoot for and strive for," said St. John, who has won 26 consecutive matches dating back to last year, "but you have to take care the matches in front of you first, and that kind of stuff will take care of itself." Two of his next four opponents are also on the Hodge watch list. Dieringer won the Southern Scuffle and is listed at No. 6. Green is 18-0 and ranked No. 8. No other weight class lists more than two wrestlers, and St. John makes it no secret he wants to stay at the top of his class, no matter the time of year. "It's always important to come away with wins and you always want to stay on top. It doesn't matter where you're at or what time of year it is, you always want to finish on top." That holds true in March, even if it starts in January. 49

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