Olympic Sports

Outside the men’s room: Champs and challengers

By Kirk Haaland, CycloneFanatic.com Fan Blogger It’s been a big week for the Iowa State Athletic Department with the National Wrestling Tournament in Omaha last week and hosting the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament on Sunday and Tuesday nights. There were far more great things to come out of those events than not.

The ISU wrestling team disappointed some with its distant third-place finish last week. Most of that disappointment comes from finishing with just three All-Americans. Jon Reader’s lackluster performance caught everyone off guard until it came out afterward that he was dealing with a concussion. Nick Fanthorpe and Mitch Mueller were both on the doorstep of turning in All-American performances before losing tough matches to very tough competition in the consolation round.

For me though, the good outweighed the bad. Having three finalists is nothing to shrug your shoulders at. And having two champions is something worth celebrating. Andrew Long lost another close one to Matt McDonough of Iowa at 125. The battle of the freshman is sure to be relived in the coming years. Jake Varner again topped Craig Brester and capped off his second straight title and his first undefeated season for Iowa State. Four time finalists and two time champions are still a great rarity. Also, I couldn’t be happier for Dave Zabriskie. For the second year in a row he was the top-seeded wrestling at a big weight disadvantage in the heavyweight class. Going out on top in his senior year couldn’t have happened to a more determined wrestler.

Sweet 16

The win against UW-GB was the definition of gritty. The Phoenix were tough, physical, quick and athletic. That is typically a bad matchup for the ISU women. Mix in some poor shooting from 3-point land and you have a recipe for disaster. Big “ups” to Kelsey Bolte and that lead taking three ball with a little over a minute left. She struggled shooting the ball for most of the game and still had the courage (an anatomical reference that is pointed out a little further down would also fit here) to step up and make the big one.

On a completely different note…has anyone been tallying the number of times Chelsea Poppens has drawn a lane violation when shooting free throw’s this season? I’ll set the over/under at 13.5.

The Sweet 16 is an impressive accomplishment for this ISU women’s squad based off of expectations from the beginning of the season. Much of that success can be attributed to the development of the three freshman post players (Anna Prins, Chelsea Poppens, and Amanda Zimmerman) and a certain Australian point guard leading the team. But I doubt that they will pat themselves on the back and call it a season with UCONN next on the docket.

The odds are long, but a redux of the 1999 Sweet 16 game against UCONN in Cincinnati is what everyone is hoping for, and I for one will watch my copy of that game at least five times by Sunday morning at 11. Considering the start time of the game, maybe we should all make sure to go to church on Sunday. Believe or don’t believe, we need everyone we can get on our side that day. I don’t know if God has a smooth jumper, but I’ll take any help we can get.

Coach Fennelly will put a plan together to take away strengths as best as possible, then it comes down to making shots. I’m no coaching expert or master motivator, but I would put this clip on a constant loop for these players before their next game:

Transcript of Herb Brooks’ speech in the movie “Miracle” just before playing the Soviets in the 1980 Olympic hockey semi-finals (replace Soviets with UCONN, boys with ladies, hock—ahhh, you get the idea):

“Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys (ladies). That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate (run) with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey (women’s basketball) team in the world (country). You were born to be hockey (basketball) players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey (basketball) team the Soviets (University of Connecticut) have. Screw ’em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.”

Two similarities strike me. I refuse to agree with the fact that the Huskies are unbeatable. I’m also sick to death of hearing about UCONN women’s basketball. Maybe it’s completely unwarranted but Geno Auriemma annoys me and I would love nothing more than to stick it to him again.

NCAA Tourney thoughts

• Was anyone else rabidly cheering for a 15-seed to upset a two=seed in hopes of breaking the curse on ISU basketball? Granted there was the 2005 tournament for the Cyclones but I’m all for trying anything at this point.

• UNI has been stunning and a lot of fun to watch. Ali F’s (can we just call him that to save me the headache?) shot against UNLV might not have been the best shot available, but it only foreshadowed what was to come. The shot against KU with roughly half a minute left on the clock might have been the “ballsiest” shot I have ever seen. Conventional wisdom and basketball IQ would say to pull that one out and run some clock. But UNI had been reeling and was clinging to the lead by its fingertips. It was a great look for a great shooter that leapt up and snatched the victory away from Kansas. The only thing that would’ve made the ending better is if Gus Johnson had been doing the play-by-play…I love that guy.

• We’ll find out on Friday night just how much there is to the “Sports Illustrated” cover jinx. One thing to keep in mind despite the loss of Kalin Lucas for Sparty is that Tom Izzo has never lost a third or fourth round game in the tournament, meaning if they reach the Sweet 16, they continue to the Final Four.

• What a phenomenal first day (and weekend really), too bad I, like many others have to miss so many great games while at work. National holiday anybody?

• I’m pretty indifferent on the tournament expanding to 96 teams, which is probably a good thing because it sounds like it’s a near done deal. Under the assumption the same four region setup would be used there would be a play-in game for the 9-16 seeds in each region. If this happens the regular season and conference tournament champions from every division one conference have to get automatic bids.

• Now that Memphis’ final appeal to the NCAA on vacating all of their wins in 2008 due to Derrick Rose’s fraudulent test score has been rejected, I would like to make a plea to the media. If Kentucky makes the Final Four would someone with “Ali-sized” stones, please ask John Calipari at his first media appearance in Indianapolis: “Coach, you’ve had a long successful career, can you talk about how exciting it is for you to finally make it to the final four?”

• It seems to happen every year. Whether it is bowl game performances in football or NCAA tourney performances in basketball, but the conferences that are lauded with praise all season long flame out more often than not and the conferences that get spat on shine the brightest. Kansas is really the only team I’m surprised didn’t make it this far out of the Big 12 and having Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State in the round of 16 is far from shocking. It’s all about matchups when playing in a one-and-done tournament.

Trivia Time

Last week’s question: Can you name the three teams that have eliminated the ISU women from the NCAA tournament more than once since Bill Fennelly has been the coach?

Last week’s answer: Utah (1997 & 2005), Georgia (1999 & 2007), and Rutgers (1998 & 2008)

This week: With Jake Varner winning back-to-back titles this past Saturday, who was the last Cyclone wrestler not named Cael Sanderson to win back-to-back individual titles?