MADISON, Wis. Maybe Brent Metcalf lets down his guard more often these days in the sweat-soaked moments after he steps off the mat.
Maybe a few more smiles are starting to replace the former Iowa star’s stone-faced scowl when the cameras are running.
This might be a different Metcalf than the world has seen twice already. But the joke-cracking, laugh-inducing guy who celebrated another U.S. freestyle title Sunday night is ready to show he can get an elusive prize with the same stubbornness that made him great with the Hawkeyes.
On a night when his stifling defensive skills overshadowed his renowned high-paced offense, Metcalf swept a best-of-three championship series against Jordan Oliver in the World Team Trials to claim the 143-pound spot on the U.S. freestyle team.
This is only the start of the climb for Metcalf, who is still in pursuit of his first World medal after representing the U.S. in 2010 and 2013.
“You’ve gone through this how many times now and you’re kind of sick of it and you’re ready to go and do the things you want to do,” he said. “It’s time to do that for me.”
Metcalf admitted there was extra incentive this time around at the World Team Trials. The 27-year-old watched Saturday night as former Iowa teammate Tony Ramos, a rookie on the senior freestyle level, won the 125.5-pound spot on the U.S. team.
“I’m a motivated guy, but I tell you what, I don’t want Tony Ramos to be the only (Iowa) guy on this World team,” Metcalf said. “That’d look pretty bad on me when I’m supposed to be the leader in that room.”
Three-time World and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs and recent Penn State graduate Ed Ruth also booked trips Sunday night for the September World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Ruth rallied to beat Keith Gavin 11-7 in the decisive third bout at 189 after losing the first match in the series.
Burroughs topped David Taylor 6-2 and 6-5 to claim the 163-pound spot for the fourth straight year. The first bout ended with the two exchanging shoves on the edge of the mat.
“Me and David are great friends,” Burroughs said. “It’s always a bitter rivalry when we’re on the mat. We both want to win, but unfortunately for me to fulfill my dreams I’ve got to kill his.”
Metcalf used his defensive stinginess to keep his 2014 title aspirations intact. He rallied for a 4-2 victory in the first bout, coming from behind to win after fighting Oliver off his legs at least three times. He barely gave the two-time NCAA champion from Oklahoma State an opening during a 3-0 win in the second match.
“He doesn’t get a lot of credit for being a defensive wrestler,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “But he gets a lot of credit in our wrestling room for having extremely heavy hips. When you get to his legs, you’ve got to work hard to finish.”
When he critiqued his own performance, Metcalf found flaws in his offense. He said he didn’t get to Oliver’s legs as much as he planned. Minutes later, though, Metcalf cracked jokes about Twitter – he calls it “Tweeder” – and added a few other moments of levity to his post-match interview session.
“Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age,” he said . “Maybe my (14-month-old) son (Chase) is making me softer. But I don’t think I’m wrestling any less tough, so that’s good. Have fun with it. Take a page out of David Taylor’s book. See, I just threw you one. There you go, Taylor.”