Feb. 6, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- It is rare that on an afternoon when the fifth-ranked University of Iowa wrestling team wins a Big Ten Conference dual by 36 points, the highlight is a five-point decision by a middleweight.
To be more specific, the highlight was when Hawkeye All-American Derek St. John made his way to Mediacom Mat on Sunday to face Wisconsin's Shawn Perry. The score was incidental; St. John's return is not.
St. John suffered a knee injury Dec. 8 during a 3-1 win against David Bonin of Northern Iowa. He returned to the mat Jan. 20 and aggravated the injury during a 7-3 loss to Ohio State's Josh Demas. It was a successful return Sunday for St. John.
"It's tough to battle back from something like that, especially reinjuring it and then coming back again," St. John said. "It's one of those things where you have to stay positive and you have to stay on top of it, and build every day."
University of Iowa head coach Tom Brands said that "two or three minutes" after the injury on Dec. 8, he knew St. John would be back. From Dec. 9 to present, Brands called St. John's status "day-by-day" because he was training well.
"He's a tough guy," Brands said of St. John. "That's a pretty good compliment and a pretty good description. I don't think you need to say much more than that about him."
St. John started the scoring Sunday with a takedown 57 seconds into the match. He added an escape in the second period, and tacked on a takedown in the third. St. John compiled 1-minute, 56-seconds of riding time.
"It's tough to battle back from something like that, especially reinjuring it and then coming back again. It's one of those things where you have to stay positive and you have to stay on top of it, and build every day."
Derek St. John
UI 157-pound wrestler
While St. John was recuperating from injury, his former high school teammate, Nick Moore, stepped in. Moore went 5-2 at the Midlands Championships (placing seventh) and was 2-4 in duals. His most recent outing resulted in an 11-2 major decision against Alec Ortiz of Minnesota in a dual the Hawkeyes won by two points.
"You don't want to sit and watch everyone on your team, even though Nick Moore was doing a pretty good job out there," St. John said. "You want to be the guy wrestling and winning matches."
Brands said he was "OK with it," when asked for a review of St. John's performance against Wisconsin.
"I know he wants to score more," added Brands.
St. John said he felt the effects of being away from competition for essentially two months.
"(My lungs) were burning a little bit, but it's good to have that feeling back and it will only get better from here," St. John said.
Still, the win by St. John overshadowed all others against the Badgers. That's saying a lot since the Hawkeyes won two bouts by major decision, two by technical fall and by pin at 165 pounds by UI freshman Mike Evans over Ben Jordan in the marquee matchup of the meet.
St. John cautioned that his knee may never return to 100 percent, "but I'm going to work to get it there." Now a key is getting the muscle memory back to where it was in December.
"There can't be hesitation or you're going to get hurt again," St. John said.
Before the injury, St. John was 11-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Kyle Dake of Cornell. In the Jan. 31 poll by InterMat, the now unranked St. John sits behind Jason Welch of Northwestern (second), Dylan Alton of Penn State (sixth), James Green on Nebraska (seventh), Anthony Jones of Michigan State (12th) and Demas (20th).
St. John doesn't intend to stay unranked for long.
"The progress has been good and it has to do with the process starting the minute he walked off the mat in December when he was injured," Brands said. "His mind has been in the right place, and there has been no hesitation from him."
The Hawkeyes return to action Sunday, Feb. 12, at the NWCA National Duals in Ames. Other participating teams are Iowa State, Northern Iowa, Oregon State, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.