Marion finds competition groove
Andy Hamilton ? Iowa City Press-Citizen ? January 29, 2010
Montell Marion walked into the Iowa wrestling video room the other day, sat down on the leather couch, propped his feet up and grabbed the remote.
As the sophomore clicked through his latest performance, fast forwarding and rewinding through the sequences of action in a second-period pin against Purdue's Juan Archuleta, Marion kicked back and discussed the anxiety issues he wrestled with earlier in the year that sapped his strength and energy at times.
By all indications on the flatscreen, with Marion's body language, the soft and confident tone of his voice and his recent results, he seems to be shaking free from the tension that he and his coaches think held him back in competition earlier in the year.
"I could feel the tightness before," he said. "I've been feeling a relief, I've been feeling good. My lungs feel good, and I feel in shape. Anxiety can take away from your shape. Your adrenaline will get going, and it feels like your muscles turn to mush sometimes. But I've been feeling strong."
Marion carries a 14-2 record, a No. 5 national ranking at 141 pounds and a string of three consecutive impressive performances into top-ranked Iowa's 7 p.m. dual today against No. 13 Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Marion's 4-0 handling of then-No. 5 Jamal Parks was a pivotal victory in Iowa's 19-16 victory against Oklahoma State on Jan. 16. Marion said it was a significant win for his confidence, too.
To that point, he had been known as one of the most improved wrestlers on Iowa's roster, a guy who had made rapid gains in the practice room by taking on the toughest training partners available.
"He decided (last year) he was no longer going to be the guy who stepped off the mat," Iowa assistant Terry Brands said. "He stayed out and wrestled as long as a guy wanted to wrestle, and when the (other) guy wanted to take a break, he would pull him back to the center of the mat and keep wrestling. That was very difficult for him. It took some spurring and motivation from the coaching staff to get him to be able to do that. Eventually, it became a habit."
The problem for Marion was figuring out how to make his work in the practice room translate into high-level success in competition. He had mixed results earlier in the year, placing sixth at the Midlands Championships, winning a pair of bouts at the National Duals before getting pinned in 42 seconds by Minnesota's Mike Thorn. Even during some of Marion's victories, there were instances in matches when he would shift gears, when he would score three takedowns in the first period against a ranked opponent and go minutes without scoring again.
To the Iowa coaches, it was apparent something was coming unplugged between the practice room and the competition arena.
"He was always on edge, always on edge. It was always about the next match, even a week out," Brands said. "It is about the next match anyway, but he was to the point where he never relaxed.
"If your muscle is flexed, it can't explode. It has to be relaxed to explode. It was kind of the same thing with him mentally and emotionally. He never really gave himself a chance to peak for an event because he was peaked all week. He was at the maximum RPM the whole week."
Marion said some of his anxiety stemmed from the uncertainty of his role on a team with three wrestlers who have been ranked in the top six at 141 pounds at one point this season. Marion defeated teammate Dan LeClere at the Midlands and then lost two rounds later to teammate Joe Slaton.
But Slaton has yet to be cleared academically and Marion has become the de facto starter.
"The whole issue with the 141 spot has something to do with (the anxiety)," Marion said. "A lot of times I was going out there feeling nervous about if I wasn't performing to a certain level, or if something went wrong, the spot would be taken away from me. That was hard to deal with. It took away from my confidence.
"I can't speak for anyone else who has been in that position, but I was unsure of myself, and I know that affected me. As I've established myself and won some matches, got more mat experience and become more aware -- my awareness has gone up with relaxation -- I've been able to turn the corner."
Marion followed up the victory against Parks by throttling Michigan's Mark Weber 19-6 and decking 17th-ranked Archuleta on Sunday. He said it's helped to break things down to a simple philosophy: I've done the work, now go perform.
"(The coaches have) given me some helpful things, but mostly, it's just me figuring out what it takes and what I need to do and the mindset I need to be in that's gotten me to another level," Marion said. "At this point, I feel like it's going to be hard (for opponents) to deal with that level and that confidence when I go out there and wrestle that way."
Reach Andy Hamilton at 339-7368 or email@example.com.