Derek St. John’s stoic demeanor can make his emotions difficult to detect.
Underneath his poker face, there was incredible joy Saturday night.
The Iowa junior captured the 157-pound NCAA title with a 3-2 victory against Northwestern’s Jason Welch in front of 16,653 at Wells Fargo Arena.
St. John dropped to his knees and threw his fists in the air as an Iowa-heavy crowd roared a native son. Minutes later, though, he sat at a table inside the interview room reserved for champions, and judging by the expressionless look on his face, it was hard to detect whether he’d accomplished a dream or completed a drill session.
His words told the story.
“It’s unbelievable,” said St. John, a two-time Iowa state high school champion at Iowa City West. “It’s awesome. It’s what I’ve been working for the last four years and I finally got it. It’s unbelievable. It’s just unbelievable.”
The pendulum of astonishment swung in the opposite direction in Iowa’s other championship match.
Tony Ramos dropped a controversial 7-4 decision to No. 1 seed Logan Stieber of Ohio State in the 133-pound title. The second-seeded Iowa junior momentarily put the defending NCAA champion on his back in the second period.
Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands argued with mat officials that Ramos had scored near-fall points during the flurry, but he was awarded only a takedown — a call that was upheld on a video review.
“I just tried to bail out,” Stieber said. “I knew it was close to a near fall, but I didn’t think it was one.”
In the tunnel after the match, Brands hollered at reporters, indicating that he thought Ramos pinned Stieber. His twin brother Tom, Iowa’s head coach, declined interviews afterward.
Ramos wouldn’t divulge many feelings about his thoughts on the call, but he said: “I shouldn’t have let it come down to that.”
“(The call is) not up to me,” he said. “I still had to go out and wrestle, I still had to score points, I still gave up riding time, so there’s some improvements that have to be made.
“I’m upset. I gave up two takedowns right away, but the rest of the match I felt like I wrestled hard. I felt like I wrestled every position, I was attacking, I was coming out on bottom, I was scoring points. Yeah, I’m upset, but I felt like I wrestled a hard match.”
Stieber has handed Ramos five of his six losses during the past two seasons.
“I’m right there,” Ramos said. “I’m right there with the best guys in the world, not just the country. Me and Stieber are probably the top two in the world, but I’m going to have to beat him if I want to be the best.”
The Hawkeyes finished fourth to claim a team trophy for the sixth straight year, but Iowa finished 50.5 points behind Penn State, which claimed its third straight title.
Mike Evans finished sixth at 174 for the Hawkeyes and Ethen Lofthouse placed fifth at 184 pounds.
“I’m still not where I wanted to be,” Lofthouse said. “Fifth place isn’t what I wanted by any means. My goal last year was to be a national champ, my goal this year was to be a national champ and next year it’s going to be to be a national champ. I feel good that I finished the right way, but I didn’t get what I wanted. There’s that motivation right there for next year.”
St. John’s incentive came from a near-miss last year when he lost in the finals to Cornell’s Kyle Dake.
The junior won for the sixth time in six tries against Welch, using a second-period rideout, a locked hands penalty point and an escape.
“Every match (with Welch) is different,” St. John said. “I guess this meant the most probably to both of us. There’s more emphasis on this match, more exclamation points put on it.”